A new self-administered test that can be taken at home could be the key to uncovering dementia signs before Alzheimer’s sets in. Researchers have discovered a unique way of spotting Alzheimer’s early on, which can allow treatment to begin before problems arise: due to the ease of taking the test it could be used as a major prevention method in the community.
How Does the Test Work?
The test is called the Self-Administered Gerocognitive Examination (SAGE). It takes only 15 minutes, and can be taken online or in writing. It involves a series of questions such as labelling pictures, naming 12 different animals, solving basic logic problems, and remembering a phrase stated at the beginning of the test.
Alzheimer’s is a common form of dementia, and causes the person to have slow memory loss, and eventually the inability to carry on a conversation or respond to what is going on around them. Key symptoms could be visual or spatial disturbance, difficulty solving problems, getting confused about what month or year it is, having problems with words, or mood changes. The SAGE test is designed to flag some of these key signs of Alzheimer’s, and anyone who gets more than six answers wrong is encouraged to talk to their doctor. Almost everyone without any issues will get a perfect score on the test.
Researchers found that the results of the SAGE correlated highly with more complicated tests; this means that the SAGE can be used as a simple, first-line preventative measure that can flag symptoms early. More complex testing can then be done to ensure a proper diagnosis and treatment plan is made.
Shift Towards Prevention
This research and the accompanying test indicates a focus shift in the medical profession towards prevention, and away from an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff type treatment approach. With Alzheimer’s slated to be a “global epidemic” by 2050, it’s important that prevention and treatment methods are worked out sooner rather than later.
A major issue facing the medical community is that Alzheimer’s patients do not respond particularly well to medication: this means that once the disease is already in full force, it is relatively hard to slow or stop. Known as a “progressive” disease, the focus on prevention gets around this issue, with the possibility of treatments and therapies thatcan slow down Alzheimer’s before it establishes itself in the brain. A representative from Patient Claim Line, a team of medical solicitors dealing with numerous elder care claims, explained that with numbers of people with dementia rising and costs spiraling, dementia remains a challenge to the UK health system that cannot be overlooked. The costs of dementia will continue to rise unless we have a prevention system that better supports both people with dementia and their carers.
This test could be one step towards that aim, allowing costs to be reduced when treatment is started early rather than allowing the disease to progress. Furthermore, testing that can uncover Alzheimer’s indicators before the disease is established can get around some ethical issues with testing new medications. If a patient already has Alzheimer’s, they cannot necessarily consent to experimental medications that may help — as a result, medications are often tested on mice, which are altogether dissimilar to humans. With preventative measures in place, treatments could be started before the patient has lost the ability to consent, and while their mental faculties are still intact.
Limits and Further Research
One limiting factor of the test is that while the results were correlated highly with other, more complex tests, it was not directly compared with tests that already exist. This means that it cannot be used to actually diagnose dementia, and an at-home self-diagnosis may not be accurate. In some cases,this may mean unnecessary worry — in others it may mean that a person thinks they are fine when in fact they are not. Further investment in research is important, as the new focus on prevention could uncover vital information about how to prevent this disease. For example, things as simple as mental stimulation, diet, exercise, and general health could all be crucial pieces of the Alzheimer’s prevention puzzle.
Overall, the improvements in testing that come about will result in better individual health for those prone to developing Alzheimer’s, which can lead to better community health as individuals are able to participate in work and leisure for longer.