According to the Alzheimer's Association, more than 5 million people in the US suffer from Alzheimer's disease. But new research suggests that early symptoms of the disease could now be detected early with the help of a 15-minute home-based test, meaning potential treatments could be started much earlier.
Researchers from the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, led by Dr. Douglas Scharre of the Division of Cognitive Neurology at the university, published their findings in The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences.
The new pen-and-paper-based test, called the Self-Administered Gerocognitive Examination (SAGE), consists of four interchangeable forms and takes approximately 15 minutes to complete.
The test determines the cognitive abilities of each patient by assessing the following areas:
- Orientation (the month, date and year)
- Language (verbal fluency and picture naming)
- Reasoning/computation (abstract and calculation)
- Visuospatial (3D construction and clock drawing)
- Executive (problem solving) and memory abilities.
Patients can achieve a maximum of 22 points on the test, and missing six or more points may warrant a follow-up visit to a clinician, according to the researchers.
SAGE test 'detects early signs of cognitive impairment'
Dr. Scharre says that in earlier research, it was found that around 80% of individuals will have their mild cognitive problems detected using this test, and around 95% of people without any signs of cognitive impairment will have normal scores.
To further assess the efficacy and ease of the SAGE test, the investigators visited 45 community events and asked 1,047 individuals aged 50 years or older to complete the test.
The SAGE test could help detect early signs of cognitive impairment, leading to early treatment for Alzheimer's disease.
Image credit: Ohio State University
From this, the investigators found that 28% of participants showed signs of cognitive impairment.
All participants were given their individual scores alongside written information about the test, and they were advised to present the results to their doctors so they could receive further evaluation or screening, dependent on their health history.
Dr. Scharre says results from this study show that the test can be carried out in almost any setting, such as at home, and prove useful in terms of early detection of cognitive impairment.
Furthermore, he notes that the test does not require any time to set up in terms of administration, and it can easily be used to simultaneously screen a large number of individuals.
Commenting on overall findings of the test, Dr. Scharre says:
"What we found was that this SAGE self-administered test correlated very well with detailed cognitive testing. If we catch this cognitive change really early, then we can start potential treatments much earlier than without having this test."
Treatments best started 'sooner than later'
Dr. Scharre notes that while the test does not diagnose Alzheimer's disease itself, it is a good tool that allows doctors to determine patients' initial cognitive function and to monitor this over time.
"We can give them the test periodically and, the moment we notice any changes in their cognitive abilities, we can intervene much more rapidly," he adds.
The Alzheimer's Association states that the number of people in the US with Alzheimer's disease aged 65 years and older is expected to almost triple to 13.8 million by the year 2050, and the researchers note that around 22% of people aged 60 years and over will have some form of mild cognitive impairment by this point.
But Dr. Scharre says he hopes that in enabling earlier detection of cognitive issues, the SAGE test will help in the treatment of these individuals.
"We are finding better treatments, and we know that patients do much better if they start the treatments sooner than later," he adds.
However, Dr. Doug Brown of the Alzheimer's Society in the UK notes that although the SAGE test is an "interesting development," home test are currently "not a reliable" way of diagnosing Alzheimer's disease or other types of dementia.
"Dementia and Mild Cognitive Impairment are difficult to diagnose, and we need to continue to fund more research into tests like this and other ways that may help improve the accuracy and ease of diagnosis," he adds.
Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting that brain training may boost cognitive skills.