Cognitive tests a 'first step' to Alzheimer's diagnosis

Jun 29, 2009 By Judith Graham

The sooner someone is diagnosed with dementia, the better.

Increasingly, that's the mantra of experts in Alzheimer's disease, a condition that robs people of their memories and ability to think.

The Alzheimer's Association is highlighting the message in a new media campaign that began last month on television and is continuing with print ads in local markets.

How does this work? And why deliver a diagnosis of Alzheimer's, an incurable condition that many older people fear, sooner rather than later?

If a family member is becoming confused and forgetful much more often, experts recommend a brief test that can suggest potential dementia. (For 10 possible warning signs of dementia, go to the Alzheimer's Association Web site, alz.org.)

The most common is the Mini Mental State Exam, which asks takers to name several objects, identify the year, date and season, and count backward, among other tasks.

Limitations of the exam include its length and relatively poor ability to identify people with mild , explained William Thies, chief medical office for the Alzheimer's Association. Mild cognitive impairment is often a precursor to dementia.

A new test by researchers in Britain, called Test Your Memory, may become an alternative. In a recent article in the , researchers reported the five-minute, self-administered exam detected 93 percent of patients with Alzheimer's.

These brief are "a first step," said Dr. Raj Shah, an Alzheimer's expert at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. Further evaluation involves ruling out other conditions that can compromise memory, such as stroke or depression, and taking a thorough history with the person and a family member.

Often, more extensive cognitive testing will also be ordered. "It's unrealistic to expect a very brief test to discriminate between normal aging and mild cognitive impairment," said Dr. Ronald Petersen, head of the Mayo Clinic's Alzheimer's Disease Research Center.

What's the value of a diagnosis?

People with mild cognitive impairment or early-stage Alzheimer's can make lifestyle changes -- exercise more, eat diets rich in vegetables and fish, engage in cognitively stimulating activities -- that may improve their quality of life, Shah said.

Also, people who receive diagnoses early can participate in decisions about their treatment and connect with community resources. For instance, those newly diagnosed could put their financial affairs in order or get counseling for depression.

It's important to note that the Food and Drug Administration hasn't approved any medications for use in people with mild cognitive impairment. Researchers have tested drugs commonly used to treat Alzheimer's in these patients, but results are inconclusive, Petersen noted.

With Alzheimer's disease, the medications produce a slight benefit -- a relief of some symptoms for 6 to 12 months for about half of people who take them. No medication has been shown to alter the disease's progression.

For all the emphasis on early detection, many people may not want to know they're at risk for Alzheimer's disease. Indeed, almost two-thirds of people with haven't received a diagnosis, the Alzheimer's Association reports. Currently, 5.3 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's disease.

___

(c) 2009, Chicago Tribune.
Visit the Chicago Tribune on the Internet at www.chicagotribune.com/
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Explore further: Tide turning in Ebola fight after hard lessons

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Education protects against pre-Alzheimer's memory loss

Oct 20, 2008

ST. PAUL, Minn. – People with more education and more mentally demanding occupations may have protection against the memory loss that precedes Alzheimer's disease, according to a study published in the October 21, 2008, ...

Loss of scent sense linked to Alzheimer's

Jul 04, 2007

A new study shows seniors who have trouble identifying scents are more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease than people who knew soap smell from cinnamon.

Recommended for you

Ebola mistakes should serve a lesson says WHO

10 hours ago

The World Health Organization's chief admitted on Sunday that the UN agency had been caught napping on Ebola, saying it should serve as a lesson to avoid similar mistakes in future.

British Ebola nurse discharged from hospital

17 hours ago

A British nurse who contracted Ebola while working as a volunteer in Sierra Leone said she was "happy to be alive" as she was discharged from hospital on Saturday having made a full recovery.

Tide turning in Ebola fight after hard lessons

Jan 24, 2015

A top U.N. official in the fight against Ebola greeted just three patients at one treatment center he visited this week in Sierra Leone. Families in Liberia are no longer required to cremate the remains of ...

Just five Ebola cases left in Liberia: UN

Jan 24, 2015

The United Nations said on Saturday Liberia was dealing with just five remaining cases of Ebola, in the clearest sign yet that the country is nearing the end of the outbreak.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.