5 Quick Tests for Alzheimer's and Dementia

Plus a more exhaustive one to help with early detection if you're concerned
or unsure if a loved one is showing signs

Detecting Alzheimer’s or dementia in seniors can be difficult because the symptoms often overlap with those of normal aging. This can make it hard to determine if further testing is necessary. To provide some clarity, some tests can be done at home to see if a more in-depth assessment is warranted.

But before going ahead, it’s important to make it clear that those tests are only a means to gain an initial idea. None should be taken as a certainty and even less as a diagnostic. A LOT of factors can affect the results and the most important element for you to take into consideration is the senior’s baseline. For instance, if a senior is hard of hearing, she/he may simply misunderstand a word or a guideline. That’s an easy mistake to make. 

If the language used to do the tests is not in their mother tongue, again it might not mean much at all. Also, the baseline of general knowledge plays an important factor. The idea is not to determine if the person should or shouldn’t know something but to gauge how they are doing compared to their normal self. So please go ahead and take these for what they are: A rough indication if your loved one is starting to show signs of AD (Alzheimer’s or Dementia).

In our experience, it’s best to try the tests you feel are most appropriate for that specific senior you know well and to do them a few times over a few weeks while varying them a bit (different topics, different words to spell, etc). Here are five of them.

The "World" Test

In this test you ask the person to spell the word “world” forward and backward and then list the letters in “world” in alphabetical order. This test, sometimes used by gerontologists is scored as wholly correct or incorrect . The creators of the test (Leopold and Borson) state that that when a highly educated patient fails this test, there exists a real possibility of impaired cognition and more formal testing should be carried out.

“Detecting Alzheimer’s or dementia is tricky because symptoms overlap with those of normal aging”

The One Minute Naming Test

A second brief test is to ask a patient to name as many objects in a category (e.g., animals) as he or she can within one minute. If a patient can generate the names of more than 21 objects, he or she is probably “ok.” If he or she cannot name 15 or more objects, there is a fair possibility that they are cognitively affected, and the likelihood that he or she has AD is often many times greater than if a patient can name 15 animals or more.

The Attention Test

This test is used to determine if the person has difficulty paying attention or focusing on tasks. To do this, you can ask the person to count backward from 20 or answer simple math problems.

The Orientation Test

This test is used to determine if the person has difficulty orientating themselves in time and space. To do this, you can ask the person questions such as what day it is or where they are. If they have difficulty answering these questions, it could be a sign of dementia or Alzheimer’s.

The Mini-Cog Test

The Mini-Cog test is a quick, three-step screening test that can help identify cognitive impairment. The person is asked to remember three words, draw a clock face showing a particular time and then recall the three initial words. A score of 0-2 may indicate cognitive impairment, while a score of 3-5 indicates normal cognition.

The SAGE and MMSE Tests

If your parent or loved one is on-board and interested to test themselves with your help, Dr. The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center designed a test called SAGE (Self Administered Gerocognitive Exam).  It’s a 15 minutes process that covers cognitive, memory and thinking impairment.  Click on the name of the test to find out more and to access it.

Another option is the MMSE (Mini Mental Status Examination). It consists in a series of tests similar to the individual ones above but in a controlled type of environment, and with the help of someone.  It also takes about 15 minutes.

Whether you use some of the individual tests or the more exhaustive ones, it’s crucial to keep in mind that none of these tests can diagnose Alzheimer’s or Dementia on its own, and proper diagnosis requires a comprehensive evaluation by healthcare professionals. These tests serve early indicators of possible cognitive impairment, and early diagnosis allows for early interventions and better care management.  Run as many tests as comfortable to and over at least a couple of weeks to get a sense for your loved one’s level. If she/he failed a few of them, also make sure it’s wasn’t due to language issues, hearing difficulty or other elements that are part of the senior’s baseline.  If you’re not sure or if you feel the results are below the level at which you would normally expect to be, then it’s time to see a gerontologist in short order to get a full perspective and discuss the best approach go-forward.  

And if ever your parent or other loved one is diagnosed with early onset dementia or Alzheimer, there remains time to enjoy with them.  It’s very much possible, with some home care support, to provide an extended quality of life that at the same time provides those supporting them with a life of their own.  And with a few tips such as those you will find in this this post on caring for dementia, you can actually extend quality time you will spend with them.

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