A pen, a piece of paper and 15 minutes may be all you need to determine whether you or a loved one have early signs of cognitive impairment, which may lead to dementia.
The threat of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis looms large as we get older, periodically rearing its head when we misplace our keys or forget an item at the grocery store. Scientists and laymen alike have long searched for a simple way to distinguish between normal mental slips and true signs of dementia.
There’s no way to know for sure whether a one-off symptom is a sign of something more sinister, but experts are heartened by the apparent accuracy of the Self-Administered Gerocognitive Examination, otherwise known as SAGE, a cognitive functioning test created by a group of scientists from The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
SAGE is a free, pen-and-paper test consisting of a dozen questions and problems aimed at evaluating a person’s executive functioning, memory, language and reasoning skills, and ability to orient themselves in space and time.
After giving SAGE to more than 1,000 older adults over a period of five years, researchers concluded that the test could detect concerning signs of cognitive impairment about 80 percent of the time—an astounding record given that it can be taken in just 15 minutes, without a professional administrator.
Twenty-eight percent of those who took the test missed six out of the 22 points—enough of a deficit to warrant further investigation by a doctor, according to the creators.
The benefits of early diagnosis
A full 75 percent of people who have dementia remain undiagnosed, according to a 2011 report by Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI). This alarming number becomes even more tragic in light of the fact that, while no treatment can prevent or cure Alzheimer’s (and most other forms of dementia), an early diagnosis is key to making the most out of available treatments.
While SAGE cannot definitively diagnose dementia, the test can be used to track an aging adult’s mental acuity over time, capturing concerning declines before they become bigger problems and allowing doctors and other medical professionals to intervene earlier.
That is where the test’s true value lies, according to Douglas Scharre, SAGE’s co-creator and director of the Division of Cognitive Neurology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “Hopefully, this test will help change those situations. We are finding better treatments, and we know that patients do much better if they start treatments sooner rather than later,” he said in a press release.
Click here to read more about the SAGE test and learn where to download a free copy.
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By Anne-Marie Botek, AgingCare.com Editor