A test for early detection of Alzheimers

Written by New York Times | New York | Updated: Jun 21 2014, 15:07pm hrs
Mental abilitiesWhile there is no cure for Alzheimer?s, there are drugs that may help treat its symptoms.
Liz Arledge is all too familiar with the ravages of dementia. Her mother died of Alzheimers, and one of her brothers has been found to have the progressive brain disease as well.

So when she heard about a self-assessment test from Ohio State University to help detect early signs of dementia, Ms Arledge, 71, decided to take it. I was worried, she said. I needed to know where I stood.

The test was developed over five years by a team led by Dr. Douglas W. Scharre, a neurologist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Known as the Self-Administered Gerocognitive Examination, or SAGE, the four-page test can be completed in about 10 to 15 minutes by patients at home, or while in the waiting room at the doctors office. The test, downloadable free on the medical centers website, is now used at doctors offices nationally.

Ideally, said Dr. Scharre, physicians would screen older patients for possible memory and thinking problems during routine office visits. But often, doctors are busy, and patients dont ask about it perhaps because they fear what they will learn. That means many patients do not seek medical advice until their condition is quite advanced, he said. While there is no cure for Alzheimers, there are drugs that may help treat its symptoms. And those with an early diagnosis may be eligible for clinical trials that offer access to potentially helpful medications.

Just as important, catching symptoms in the earlier stages can help families plan for the necessary, and often costly, care that lies ahead. The annual cost of caring for someone with Alzheimers is roughly $57,000 on average, and families pay 60 percent of the tab, according to a recent report from A Womans Nation, a nonprofit media initiative.

Dr. James E. Galvin, a professor of neurology and psychiatry at New York University Langone Medical Center who has used the SAGE test with patients, said with early detection patients can have a say in how their care is structured, and who they want to manage their finances as their condition progresses. They can have those discussions coherently, he said.

Early detection also can help avoid potential financial problems that may result from impaired thinking and reasoning skills. One recent study from researchers with the Federal Reserve Board and the University of Michigan, for instance, found that spouses who handled household financial responsibilities often delayed shifting those tasks to a more capable partner, even in the face of cognitive problems. In particular, the study found, this switch often occurs well after the original financial respondent has reported having difficulties handling money.