New Test Claims to Detect Early Alzheimer’s

Reporting in the June 10 issue of BMJ, researchers have developed a new self-administered cognitive test that is quick to use, examines 10 skills, and reportedly detects 93% of cases of Alzheimer’s disease. Lead researcher and neurologist Jeremy Brown, MD, from Cambridge, the United Kingdom says that the test can be administered in a physician’s waiting area and says that if there is time during the consultation to observe the patients filling in the test, this can also be a useful aid to diagnosis. His team found that with 10 minutes’ training and a scoring sheet, a nurse without experience working in memory clinics was able to evaluate the test as accurately as a specialist. The significance of this test in part is the ability to administer it in the absence of an Alzheimer‰Ûªs specialist, gerontologist or other similarly trained expert.

Investigators evaluated subjects from three hospitals including a memory clinic. They looked at 540 control participants and 139 patients with dementia or amnesic mild cognitive impairment. Of the 139 patients with dementia or mild cognitive impairment, 108 had Alzheimer’s disease and 31 had degenerative dementias.

The test requires participants to write 10 answers on a double-sided card. The requested tasks evaluate a range of areas, including the patient’s semantic knowledge, ability to calculate and name objects, and recall. A Web site is being developed for clinicians to download the new test, scoring sheets, and further instructions.

Globally approximately 24 million people have dementia, and it is estimated that the prevalence will double every 20 years. Cognitive tests are useful to diagnose dementia and to evaluate functional ability. Currently available cognitive tests do not satisfy criteria for widespread use by non-specialists.