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01/13/2014 12:07 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

15 Minute At-Home Test Could Detect Alzheimer's Symptoms

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Worried your constant forgetfulness could be more than just a series of "senior moments?" A quick 15-minute test could provide some answers.

Researchers are saying a new pen-and-paper test that can be taken in the convenience of your home could be key in spotting the early signs of cognitive decline and dementia. Over 1,000 volunteers ages 50 and up were given the Self-Administered Gerocognitive Examination (SAGE) as part of a study by the Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center. Researchers found the test was successful in detecting 4 of every 5 people tested with mild cognitive decline.

The 22-question exam measures orientation, language, computation, visuospatial skills, problem solving, and memory. Sample questions include:
  • How many nickels are in 60 cents?
  • How are a watch and a ruler similar?
  • Write down the names of 12 animals.
  • What is today's date?
  • Draw a large face of a clock and place in the numbers.

"What we found was the SAGE self-administered test correlated very well with detailed cognitive testing," researcher Douglas Scharre said in a release. "If we can catch this cognitive change really early, then we can start potential treatments much earlier than without having this test."

Experts stress the importance of early detection with Alzheimer's and dementias, providing the chance to get the full benefit of treatments sooner and also to allow for future planning. Researchers say the SAGE test shouldn't be used to diagnose, rather to detect symptoms.

While there is no single way to diagnose Alzheimer's, a number of physical and neurological exams are given for diagnosis.Late last year, one study showed some success in using a peanut butter sniff test to distinguish people with cognitive impairment.

Test-takers can take the assessment then share the results with their primary care physician. Researchers say the at-home test could be more effective in detecting early symptoms of cognitive decline than a standard office visit, as doctor's often can't observe subtle cognitive impairments during a brief visit. Missing 6 or more points on the test means there should be additional medical follow-up.

Download the test here.

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