Study: Women may be underdiagnosed, men overdiagnosed for MCI

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Families who have dealt with Alzheimer’s are likely familiar with the battery of tests that loved ones go through. One of the most well-known is the clock test, where one is asked to draw a clock with a specific time. While my father never was subjected to such tests that I know of, I witnessed my mother do the clock test when she became ill. She didn’t have Alzheimer’s. The tumor in her colon had made her unable to eat, and her sodium levels were out of whack, which can induce temporary delirium. The symptoms closely mimic dementia, and it was frightening to witness in my mother, just months after my father died from Alzheimer’s complications.

My mother struggled mightily to complete the test, as I wrote about previously. If you look at examples online, some people have trouble getting the hour numbers positioned correctly, while others struggle with drawing the lines to the hour and minute. It is a surprisingly simple, but informative exercise. (I’m not sure what they will do for younger generations who only know how to tell time in digital format.)

In addition to visual tasks like the clock test, testing for dementia also involves asking a person to remember a set of simple words. The person is then asked to recall those words at various time intervals.

A new study suggests that because women generally have better verbal skills compared to men, they may be underdiagnosed when it comes to mild cognitive impairment (MCI) while men may be overdiagnosed. A misdiagnosis can have a detrimental impact, either delaying potential treatments or subjecting someone to treatments with side effects. MCI can raise the risk of developing dementia.

Additional studies are needed to confirm the findings, but for those families going through diagnostic testing for dementia, gender differences are something to keep in mind. A person’s education also can help them perform better on tests, even though their brains may show significant changes associated with dementia.

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