Do You Have Alzheimer’s? There’s a New Tool to Help You Check.

People with Alzheimer’s often wait years after their symptoms first appear to seek evaluation and treatment. In fact, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, half of the people with Alzheimer’s don’t even know they have it. If you or a loved one are experiencing memory loss that disrupts daily life, experts stress the importance of early detection of  Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, providing the chance to get the full benefit of treatment sooner and also to allow for future planning.

Tests already exist that allow doctors to get a baseline measurement of cognitive function in their patients in order to follow and track change over time. However, these tests are not generally administered at home or in a community setting, but in a medical setting. According to the January issue of The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, the Self-Administered Gerocognitive Examination (SAGE test) can be administered at home or in group settings (such as health fairs), and has proven to be reliable.

Created by researchers at Ohio State University (OSU), SAGE was made available online this month and the resulting news coverage led to so many people trying to access the test that it crashed OSU’s web site. The website is now working again, and the test can be downloaded here. The Alzheimer’s Association, which does not typically recommend self-administered testing for Alzheimer’s, speaks highly of SAGE and its reliability.

To develop the test, researchers at OSU visited 45 community events where more than 1,000 people age 50 or older took one of four versions of SAGE. Participants were provided their score and written information about SAGE, and were advised to show it to their physician for interpretation and potential further evaluation based on their health history. All were told that this test represented their baseline to be compared to future re-testing by their physician.

The 22-question exam measures orientation, language, computation, visuospatial skills, problem solving, and memory. The average time to complete this four-page test is 10 to 15 minutes, but there’s no time limit. Sample questions include:

  • How many nickels are in 60 cents?
  • How are a watch and a ruler similar?
  • Write down the names of 12 animals.
  • What is today’s date?
  • Draw a large face of a clock and place in the numbers.

“What we found was the SAGE self-administered test correlated very well with detailed cognitive testing,” researcher Douglas Scharre said in a release. “If we can catch this cognitive change really early, then we can start potential treatments much earlier than without having this test.”

Keep in mind that the researchers themselves say that the test does not diagnose memory and thinking problems, such as Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association website, a diagnosis is made through a complete assessment that considers all possible causes. The assessment includes medical history, a physical exam, a neurological exam, mental status test, genetic testing, and brain imaging. If this tool is validated by further research, it may then become a tool that allows doctors to get a baseline measurement of cognitive function in their patients, so they can then track these abilities and assess change over time.

If you decide to complete the SAGE test, keep in mind that there is no answer sheet provided for you to score yourself because there are multiple correct answers to many of the questions on the test. SAGE should be scored by your physician, so be sure to take the results to your primary care physician for evaluation. Your doctor will score it and interpret the results. If indicated, your doctor will order some tests, as described above, to further evaluate your symptoms or refer you for further evaluation. If your score does not indicate any need for further evaluation, your doctor can keep the test on file as a baseline for the future. That means you can take the test again in the future, and the doctor can see if there are any changes over time.

A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is life-changing for both diagnosed individuals and those close to them.  While it’s not easy to think about, if your loved one has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, it is imperative to make an appointment with a Certified Elder Law Attorney such as myself, to determine who to name to make legal, financial, and medical decisions when your loved one is no longer able to do so. In addition, if your loved one hasn’t done so already, it is also of utmost importance to determine how he or she will pay for long-term care without depleting the family’s hard-earned assets.

People with Alzheimer’s live on average four to eight years after they’re diagnosed, but some may live 20 years beyond their initial diagnosis. Do you have a loved one who is suffering from Alzheimer’s? Persons with Alzheimer’s and their families face special legal and financial needs. At the Fairfax and Fredericksburg Medicaid Planning Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C., we are dedicated to easing the financial and emotional burden on those suffering from dementia and their loved ones.  If you have a loved one who is suffering from Alzheimer’s or any other type of dementia or memory lost, we can help you prepare for your future financial and long-term care needs.  We help protect the family’s hard-earned assets while maintaining your loved one’s comfort, dignity, and quality of life by ensuring eligibility for critical government benefits. Please contact The Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. as soon as possible at our Fairfax Elder Law office at 703-691-1888 or at our Fredericksburg Elder Law office at 540-479-1435 to schedule your appointment for our no-cost consultation. 

 

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