At-Home Test Could Detect Early Signs of Dementia

Notepad on a wooden table

A brief at-home test newly designed by researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center may be able to detect early signs of dementia.

The test, which can be self-administered with just a pen and paper, takes about 10 to 15 minutes to complete and can be scored by a physician. Called the Self-Administered Gerocognitive Examination (SAGE), the test evaluates six areas of cognitive functioning, including orientation to place and time, language skills, memory, problem solving, computational skills and visuospatial skills. Missing six or more points on the 22-point test could indicate potential cognitive decline.

The researchers administered the test to 1,047 people at a variety of community events and found that approximately 28% of them had evidence of cognitive problems. The test, which can be downloaded from The Ohio State University website here, garnered a lot of attention when it was first posted, overloading the website. It is available in English, Spanish and Italian and four different versions of it are available.

Data from a prior study suggests that the test can identify approximately 80% of people with mild thinking and memory problems. About 95% of people without cognitive problems scored in the normal range.

Because some of the test’s questions have multiple correct answers, an answer key is not posted online and people are encouraged to bring their completed test to their doctors for evaluation. Researchers stated that the purpose of the test was not to diagnose dementia or Alzheimer’s, but rather to promote earlier detection of cognitive decline and stimulate a conversation about cognitive health between patients and their physicians. The test can also be taken repeatedly over years to track changes in mental functioning.

Further study is needed to prove that the test can actually detect early-stage dementia. Because the test is self-administered, it is also difficult to verify whether test-takers cheated by looking at calendars or asking others for answers.

Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, is projected to affect approximately 13.8 million Americans by 2050. Additionally, an estimated 3 to 22% of Americans over the age of 60 currently meet criteria for mild cognitive impairment.