New test can detect with high accuracy whether you have early signs of dementia: ScienceAlert

From blood markers and brain scans to eye tests and voice signals, there are countless ways researchers are trying to detect dementia long before it occurs. And those studies are all in the last six months.

A common indicator of cognitive decline is simply experiencing memory loss. Yet it is not easy to know when it is the result of aging and when it is pathological.

A new cognitive screening tool developed by Australian researchers to measure six critical aspects of people’s brain function could help. Like all of these potential diagnostic tools, AIDSThe tool needs to be further validated in larger studies, but a recent evaluation concluded that its accuracy is acceptable.

So far, 526 people have tested the screening tool. It is a 46-item questionnaire that assesses their cognition in six domains: memory, language, orientation, attention and concentration, executive function, and the ability to copy and draw geometric figures, such as a clock.

This last domain, also known as visuoconstructive skills, requires fine motor skills, spatial insight and planning, one of many executive skills.

The tool, called the McCusker Subjective Cognitive Impairment Inventory, captures people’s concerns about their current mental capacity. This subjective measure often serves as an early warning sign of declining cognitive abilities, predicting dementia or at least placing individuals in a higher risk category so their health can be monitored more closely.

“Imagine if you could predict the risk of dementia before it happens, so you can start treatment and stop the progression of the disease?” said clinical psychologist and lead author Hamid Sohrabi of Murdoch University in Western Australia.

Despite its potential, there is little consensus among researchers and clinicians about the reliability of self-reporting of cognitive concerns by individuals. Because it is a self-assessment, people may be reluctant to admit to changes in their memory or speech, or may not even be aware of them if the disease has progressed too far.

There is also the general mental decline that accompanies ‘normal’ aging. To distinguish dementia from each other, a questionnaire would be needed.

However, a standardized framework, tested on large numbers of people and assessing a wide range of cognitive abilities, could help clinicians identify subtle changes that require further attention.

Alternatively, researchers have recently used artificial intelligence to scan medical records to find patterns in conditions that may be linked to the onset of Alzheimer’s. But this relies on doctors diagnosing those conditions—and those associations truly reflecting Alzheimer’s risk.

The screening tool developed by Sohrabi and colleagues consists of 46 questions that ask people about gradual changes they have experienced or noticed in the past two years, compared to five years earlier, such as difficulty with hearing, concentration or language. When responding on a five-point scale from “almost always true” to “almost never true,” higher scores represent greater concerns.

The questions are taken from previously published questionnaires on subjective cognitive decline and are designed to reflect other aspects of mild cognitive impairment that have been reported in studies of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease and dementia but were not included in those earlier questionnaires.

Using a range of statistical methods to assess the results, the researchers found that the screening tool accurately identified individuals with moderate to severe levels of subjective cognitive decline – and more reliably than previous, narrower questionnaires.

The team also identified what they believe might be a reasonably good cutoff score for grouping respondents at higher risk of dementia.

The participants in the analysis were healthy people, ages 39 to 97, and were taking part in ongoing longitudinal studies on aging, so researchers will need to track their progress in the coming years.

Like them, we are all faced with the inevitability of growing older and may be curious about what our lives will be like.

The research was published in Age and aging.

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