A new do-it-yourself test can indicate early signs of dementia.

A new do-it-yourself test can indicate early signs of dementia.

London: American researchers have developed a simple, self-administered, 15-minute test that they claim will help identify the early signs of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.

The exam, which can be completed at home, by hand or online, tests language ability, reasoning, problem-solving skills and memory.

Results can then be shared with doctors to help spot early symptoms of cognitive issues.

Take the test

At the moment, Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia, is diagnosed only through in-depth cognitive testing, but researchers said the simple test worked equally well.

"What we found was that this self-administered test correlated very well with detailed cognitive testing," said Dr Douglas Scharre, who developed the test with his team at Ohio State University.

"If we catch this cognitive change really early, then we can start potential treatments much earlier than without having this test. We can give the test periodically and, the moment we notice any changes in their cognitive abilities, we can intervene much more rapidly. We are finding better treatments, and we know that patients do much better if they start the treatments sooner than later."

The test result cannot provide a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer's, but a patient's responses can flag problems to doctors, which they can then monitor over time. Researchers believe it could be an effective tool for screening large numbers of people in the community.

The team visited 45 community events in the US where they asked people to take the Self-Administered Gerocognitive Exam (SAGE). Of the 1047 over-50s who took the pen-and-paper version, 28 per cent were identified with cognitive impairment. "Often physicians may not recognise subtle cognitive deficits during routine office visits," said Dr Scharre, the head of the Memory Disorders Research Centre at Ohio State's Wexner Medical Centre.

"This test can also be taken at home by patients, who can then share the results with their physicians to help spot early symptoms of cognitive issues such as early dementia or Alzheimer's disease.

"The pen-and-paper format allows it to be given in almost any setting, doesn't require staff time to administer or to set up a computer, and makes it practical to rapidly screen large numbers of individuals in the community at the same time."

Participants were tested on what month, date and year it was; their verbal fluency; identifying pictures; and on calculations and reasoning. They were also asked to draw to test spatial awareness and tested on their memory ability.

Researchers found that four out of five people with mild cognitive, thinking and memory issues were detected by the test, while 95 per cent of people without issues had normal SAGE scores

Dr Simon Ridley, the head of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, said: "Further research is needed to confirm whether the test would be suitable to assess and track changes in people's memory and thinking skills.

"It's important to note that the test is not designed to diagnose dementia, and people who are worried about their memory should seek advice from a doctor rather than attempting self-diagnosis with a test at home."

The research was published in The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences.

Sample questions from the test

Here are some of the 12 questions on a SAGE test (some may have multiple correct answers):

What is today's date? (from memory)

How are a watch and a ruler similar? Write down how they are alike

Write down the names of 12 different animals (don't worry about spelling)

You are buying $13.45 of groceries. How much change would you receive back from a $20 note?

Telegraph, London