If you’re a frequent reader of Alzheimer’s News Today and my column, “Treading Dark Waters,” you are undoubtedly aware of how often we stress the importance of early detection as it applies to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
A disturbing perception
Doctors sometimes fail to inform patients about a dementia or Alzheimer’s diagnosis. The perception is that Alzheimer’s is incurable, so why burden the patient and their family with grim news that can’t be medically addressed? We can assume that this is one of the reasons that about half of the 5.8 million people in the United States who have Alzheimer’s disease haven’t been diagnosed, according to a 2015 Alzheimer’s Association Annual Report.
Douglas Scharre, MD, director of the Division of Cognitive Neurology at The Ohio State University, specializes in cognitive disorders and has dedicated his life’s work to discovering how to diagnose, treat, and prevent conditions that cause cognitive impairment, including dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. I recently spoke with Scharre about the importance of diagnosis.
“There are lots of things that cause cognitive issues that can be fixed, adjusted, [or] changed, and [for] almost any medical condition, the earlier [it’s] detected the better,” Scharre said during a telephone interview.
Proven tools for detecting cognitive issues
There’s always a chance that memory loss is unrelated to dementia, which further underscores the importance of being diagnosed. Don’t allow your fear or your physician’s trepidation to hinder you from discovering what’s causing your cognitive issues.
“There are many, many causes that are reversible of thinking problems; maybe you’re on a medication, maybe the dose can be lowered if it’s [the] cause, maybe you can change from an antihistamine to a decongestant or something. Or maybe they should check your thyroid or [perform] a kidney or liver test,” he said.
Scharre is an expert in detecting cognitive function. He developed and perfected the Self-Administered Gerocognitive Exam, or SAGE test. This four-page paper and pen test is designed to differentiate between normal memory loss and changes in cognitive ability. It is a tool to assist with diagnosis, but it is not designed to determine whether or not a patient has a degenerative brain disease such as Alzheimer’s.
The process of early detection
SAGE provides a physician with information to diagnose and prescribe a more extensive neurological evaluation.
Scharre and the team at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center have extensively administered the SAGE test to patients. More than 1,000 patients took the test over the five-year period it was being developed. The test indicated that more than 30 percent of those patients showed signs of dementia. Before taking the test, the patients hadn’t recognized those signs.
A first step to diagnosis
SAGE allows patients to detect cognitive issues early so that doctors can monitor them and determine whether memory loss is progressing. Though Alzheimer’s disease isn’t curable yet, treatment options are available for those diagnosed.
“Even if it’s a degenerative condition like Alzheimer’s disease, or one of those, the medications that we have right now for the disease, even though they’re not cures, [they do] slow down the [disease’s] course. They work better the earlier you start them,” Scharre said.
The SAGE test has been translated digitally, too. BrainTest is the same test as SAGE but can be downloaded to your smartphone, computer, or tablet.
If you’re concerned about your memory, or you’ve noticed changes in a loved one’s cognitive behavior, perhaps it’s time to take the BrainTest. The digital version, as with the paper and pen test, is designed to detect early-stage changes affecting memory. It can be taken in the privacy of your home and remains confidential until you’re ready to share it with your physician.
“If they have data, most doctors will go with it,” Scharre said.
Note: Alzheimer’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Alzheimer’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Alzheimer’s Disease.