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.
This past week, researchers revealed they had developed a blood test that can accurately predict whether a senior will develop dementia in the next few years. The test has been performed on a small pool of subjects, with promising results. The test focuses on a particular set of lipids that are present in those who end up developing Alzheimer’s disease and other variations of cognitive decline. In the studies conducted so far, the blood test has had an impressive 90 percent accuracy rate.
The blood test is still years from being made available to the public as a diagnostic tool for dementia. Still, the fact that a simple blood test now exists raises the question: would you take the test?
I definitely would want to know, so I would take the test. Something to keep in mind with this particular blood test is that it only can predict the development of cognitive decline two or three years prior to onset. When it comes to genetic testing, some people fear of living with the knowledge of increased disease risk for decades, like a black cloud over their lives. I can understand that, though I have undergone commercial genetic testing that indicates I have the ApoE4 gene variant that increases my risk for Alzheimer’s. But with this new blood test, that window of time is a more reasonable one, allowing you enough time to get your affairs in order and spend quality time with your family. Not everyone would accept this information in a positive manner and it could trigger depression or destructive behavior; obviously the test should never be forced upon a patient.
That being said, I’m not saying that getting those test results indicating you have a 90 percent chance of developing dementia in a few years would be easy to digest. You might well react differently than you think you would.
Would you take a blood test that could accurately predict the onset of dementia?
In honor of National Memory Screening Day I wanted to mention an exciting new development in the area of dementia screening.
It just so happens that Georgia Tech is down the street from me, and they have created a new testing tool called the ClockMe system that can test for dementia, and can potentially be used at home. The new system is based upon the more traditional “draw a clock at a specific time” test that is normally done with pen and paper. The new test is done with a stylus on a tablet or computer screen, allowing the results to be sent to a doctor who can study them. The doctor can even replay the actual drawing session, to see how long the patient took to draw the clock and the steps they took to complete it.
I wrote before about my mom taking the clock test when she was sick this summer. If Dad ever took the test, I never knew about it. I was surprised at how telling the simple test is when it comes to diagnosing the level of cognitive function in a person.
As I’ve also mentioned before, Dad hated going to the doctor, as a lot people do. If this test can be developed so that it could be done at home, perhaps by a home health care agency or a private nurse, I believe that would encourage more people to take the test. And as baby boomers, who are more comfortable with technology, age and have to grapple with declining cognitive function, they could whip out their tablet computer and take the test on their own, and submit it to their doctor for further investigation.
Of course, there will be a segment of the population that chooses to be in denial or simply do not want to know the truth, and no test, regardless of its ease of use, will convince them to get screened. But I hope this new technology can aid in an earlier diagnosis of dementia, as time becomes so precious once that diagnosis is made.