Screening at home for memory loss: Should you try it?

It is estimated that worldwide there are more than 55 million people living with Alzheimer’s disease and other causes of dementia, and this number is estimated to rise to 78 million by 2030 and 139 million by 2050. There are simply not enough neurologists, psychiatrists, geriatricians, neuropsychologists, and other specialists to diagnose these individuals with cognitive decline and dementia. Primary care providers will need to take the lead.

Although this may sound like the obvious and simple solution, my friends who are primary care providers remind me that they barely have time to do the basics — like blood pressure and diabetes management — and that they have no time to administer fancy cognitive tests. Even a simple test like the Mini-Cog (clock drawing and three words to remember) is too long for them. So how are we going to diagnose the increasing numbers of individuals with Alzheimer’s and other dementias in the next few decades?

A self-administered test can screen for memory loss

In 2010, clinicians at the division of cognitive neurology in The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center developed a cognitive test to screen for memory loss that individuals can self-administer. This concept of a self-administered cognitive test can solve the problem of the time-crunched primary care provider. Individuals can take this test in the privacy of their own homes and bring the results with them to the office. The results can then be used to determine whether additional workup and/or referral to a specialist is indicated.

The test, the Self-Administered Gerocognitive Examination (SAGE), has compared favorably to clinician-administered tests such as the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) and Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA), as well as to standard neuropsychological testing. What was not known, however, is how well SAGE would be able to predict who would develop Alzheimer’s disease or another cause of dementia.

Predicting the future

To answer this question, the authors performed a retrospective chart review on 655 individuals seen in their memory disorders clinic, with a follow-up of up to 8.8 years. They compared their SAGE test to the MMSE.

Based on both initial and follow-up clinic visits, they divided their clinic population into four groups. Before I describe the groups, let me explain a few terms:

  • Dementia is when cognitive impairment leads to impaired function.
  • Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is when there is cognitive impairment, but the function is normal.
  • Subjective cognitive decline is when individuals are concerned about their thinking and memory, but both cognition and function are normal.

The four groups they compared were individuals with

  • Alzheimer’s disease dementia
  • MCI who converted to Alzheimer’s disease dementia
  • MCI who converted to another type of dementia
  • subjective cognitive decline.

They found a surprisingly high correlation between the SAGE test and the MMSE in being able to predict how each of these groups did over time. Moreover, they found that the SAGE test could predict the conversion of an individual with MCI who would develop dementia six months earlier than the MMSE.

What is needed to bring this test into current practice?

Even a self-administered test that individuals can do at home will still require training for primary care providers, to understand how the test should be used and how to interpret the results. There is no question, however, that such training will be worthwhile. Once the training is complete, the knowledge gained should be able to save literally thousands of hours of clinician time, in addition to missed — or improper — diagnoses.

Another question is how individuals will react when they are told that they need to perform a 10-to-15-minute cognitive test at home and bring the results to their doctor. Will they do it? Or will the ones who need the test the most avoid doing it — or cheat on it? My suspicion is that people who are concerned will do the test, as will people who generally follow their doctor’s instructions. Some individuals who would benefit from the information that the test provides may not do it, but many of those individuals wouldn’t do the “regular” pencil-and-paper testing with the doctor or clinic staff either.

A new model of cognitive screening

Previously, there were two types of screening instruments to help determine if someone is developing cognitive impairment that could lead to dementia: clinician-administered cognitive tests and family/caregiver questionnaires. Now there is a third type of screening instrument: a self-administered test. The use of these self-administered tests will be key in detecting the increasing numbers of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and other causes of dementia who will be with us in the next several decades.

Want to test yourself?

You can download the SAGE test here. As it says on the website, please take the answer sheet to your doctor so they can score it and speak with you about the results.

Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren

2 Corinthians 13:9 For we rejoice when we ourselves are weak but you are strong; this we also pray for, that you be made complete.

Colossians 1:28 We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.

Colossians 4:12 Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.

2 Corinthians 10:15-16 not boasting beyond our measure, that is, in other men’s labors, but with the hope that as your faith grows, we will be, within our sphere, enlarged even more by you, so as to preach the gospel even to the regions beyond you, and not to boast in what has been accomplished in the sphere of another.

2 Thessalonians 1:3 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater;

2 Peter 3:18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

Ephesians 1:17-18 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so that you will know what the hope of His calling is, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,

Ephesians 3:16-19 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, read more

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