AGING & CARING: Take the new 5-minute Alzheimer’s “test” – and then do this

BY PAULA SPENCER OF CARING.COM

Have you tried the new-and-improved screening test for Alzheimer’s disease yet? It’s hard to resist, because it’s so straightforward and so quick. Proposed by UK researchers in last week’s British Medical Journal, the new screening test is said to be more accurate than the commonly-used mini-mental state exam (MMSE). And unlike the MMSE, it doesn’t require a trained professional to administer it.

First things first. Here’s how to take the Test Your Memory test (PDF) and how to score it (PDF). Bear in mind, though, that it was designed for British subjects. So “Who is the prime minister?” would more effectively be, “Who is the president?” for Americans, for example. And of course researchers want to test the test in more settings, with more population groups. But early reviews are glowing.

What’s also great for caregivers: Although it’s designed for use in a medical setting, this screen can be done at home in a pretty non-threatening way. You could even make it seem like a game — useful if the person whose memory you worry about refuses to acknowledge slips or get evaluated.

  • Update: The scoring interpretation isn’t included on the how-to-score-it link. The authors are planning a test website within a month (not yet active as of 6-17-09). Meanwhile, they say that the test is designed so that most healthy people with no educational problems should be able to score near to the maximum of 50 points. People with Alzheimer’s tend to score an average of 33 points out of 50 and people with mild cognitive impairment score an average of 45 out of 50. A score above 42 correctly excludes Alzheimer’s disease 97% of the time.

Okay, then. Whether you quiz a relative whose memory loss you’ve been concerned about, or maybe yourself (I did say it’s irresistible), what next?

Actors Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent in the 2007 film "Away From Her." In the film, she suffers from Alzheimer's. (Lionsgate)

Julie Christie, Gordon Pinsent in 2007 film "Away From Her."

1. If results are reassuring, be reassured. The test detected Alzheimer’s in 93 percent of the testees who had the disease (compared to only 52 percent detected through the MMSE, surprisingly). That’s pretty darn good. Of course, it’s only a screening test – not a way to diagnose the disease. Many things can cause dementia symptoms, from delirium to medications, injury, or infection. So if you see troubling stuff, don’t ignore it no matter what a home-administered test says.

2. If results are worrisome, don’t panic. If anything, a result indicating some cognitive impairment often brings a measure of relief: “Okay, I’m not crazy. I’m not imagining things here.”

One criticism of early screening tests for Alzheimer’s disease has been that there’s no cure for the disease. There isn’t. But there are effective medications approved for even early-stage cognitive decline, as well as many other treatment options to jump on. And the earlier these things begin, the better one’s odds of supporting and maintaining current functioning longer.

3. Take concerning results to a qualified professional. Start with the person’s (or your) family physician if that’s easiest. Or, ideally, advance to a geriatrician (an MD specializing in aging) or a neurologist affiliated with a memory clinic or medical center. Express your concerns. A thorough evaluation can rule out other possible causes of cognitive trouble and provide a more detailed measure of current physical and mental status.

Alzheimer’s screening tests can be a little confusing. No single test provides a flat-out diagnosis. And there are many different kinds of cognitive screens. (The MMSE is just one example, and has its own variations.) Different doctors have their favorites. This new test is hailed for seeming fast, easy, and probably more accurate. But my main takeaway on the new Alzheimer’s test is this: If it helps a family concerned about Alzheimer’s to ID the problem and quickly get help, then it’s a welcome development worth trying.

Atlanta, you’re not alone.

9 comments Add your comment

JP

June 19th, 2009
8:39 am

Five-minute tests like this are not indicative of anything but your ability to take tests. GO TO A DOCTOR!

apw

June 19th, 2009
7:26 pm

JP is absolutely correct!

Jack

June 20th, 2009
2:59 am

Oy vey! Where is the test? Did I fail, already?

Joanne

June 20th, 2009
8:33 am

This is wonderful! Keep up the great info for us! I’m sending to relatives/friends to help everyone I know. Great Job!!!

ed dill

June 20th, 2009
2:50 pm

yes Jack, you failed. The story said the test was not yet available and they are working on a test website (for scoring) and you missed it. I would say you have oldtimers disease as well as severe retardation. Sorry. As your physician I advise you to begin drinking heavily!

IQ

June 20th, 2009
11:25 pm

Sorry, Ed Dill, but apparently you’ve already started drinking. The link to the test is in the second paragraph!

Turd Ferguson

June 22nd, 2009
2:00 pm

I took the test but cant remember my score.

Diane

June 23rd, 2009
1:30 am

Link: http://www.timesonline.co.uk
It’s the 5 minute test. It looks like you have to print it out and hand write the results since you can’t enter the info. on the computer.

Brian

July 1st, 2009
5:07 am

Some of the test are gender biased – like the cloths queston, and somewhat life style biased. Had to think about the parts of a suit – never wear them!

Why mark down ‘Shark’ in the S animal test. Surely using the example show guile and intelligence (and very short term memory) – the test dosent say you cant use the example! Goddam hate people who write test that are not precise!