Can an At-Home Test Detect Risk Factors for Senior Brain Fitness?

Can an At-Home Test Detect Risk Factors for Senior Brain Fitness?

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There’s a moment of stunned disbelief when a parent or spouse or other loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Though you struggle with the diagnosis, you you’ve already noticed a few red flags— obvious memory loss or other indicators of cognitive decline.

But what if there was a test that could help us see the signs early enough to preserve brain fitness for seniors like our parents?

According to the Journal of Neuropsychology, researchers from Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center may have just made that dream a reality with a simple 15 minute test that may be able to help identify cognitive decline before it turns into a clinical diagnosis.

Researchers have determined that the Self-Administered Gerocognitive Examination test, or SAGE, was efficient enough that it could be used to detect pre-indicators of Alzheimer’s across broad populations in both small and large community groups.

And best of all, the test’s developer, cognitive neurologist Douglas Scharre, M.D., says that the test, a 12 question pen and paper questionnaire, can be easily completed from the comfort of your own home.

Implications in Brain Fitness for Seniors

As with any personally conducted evaluation, tests such as the SAGE come with pros and cons. Of course, encouraging awareness of early detection for debilitating health concerns like Alzheimer’s is positive, and the simplicity will offer further impetus, yet the at-home testing may negatively affect a more comprehensive diagnosis.

Let's explore what this means for senior healthcare — and your loved one in particular.

The SAGE test is designed to evaluate certain functions of of both the right and left brain.

To evaluate right brain fitness for seniors, a participant is asked to copy geometrical designs and to perform a battery of memory-related tests. To gauge the language and math skills of the left brain, participants are asked questions that require them to identify pictures and symbols.

In general, the test evaluates visuospacial awareness as well as orientation of time and, compared to many other past tests, the right-left balance of the testing makes the results more comprehensive.

Because the test is completed by participants at home, however, the validity of the results have been questions be other Alzheimer's research professionals.

A Critique of Methodology

One of the most notable critics has been, Julie Robillard, a doctoral fellow at the National Core for Neuroethics at The University of British Columbia. For Robillard, at-home testing quickly becomes an area of ethical concern.

Robillard believes that at-home testing, in general, is often biased because much of the tests are offered on websites that also advertise products to treat or assist with Alzheimer's. As the aging brain may be more susceptible to fraud and scams, she says it's difficult to discern whether some of the sites are genuinely offering "free" unbiased testing or if they are commercially affiliated.

Scharre, SAGE's developer, does not dispute this, but suggests that potential benefits outweigh these risks.

Increased awareness, early conversations and possibly even early detection could lead to a decline in Alzheimer's over time, though he is very careful to state that t his test should NOT be used in place of a complete, thorough evaluation by one's health care providers.

Be Proactive about Senior Healthcare and Download the Free SAGE Test

You can find the SAGE test online at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center's website where it is available to download for free.

Taking the test may help convince an elderly loved one to speak to a doctor, but the Self-Administered Gerocognitive Examination should only be used as an indicator that further testing may be necessary and should not be considered as an Alzheimer's diagnosis.

Always remember to consult your loved one's physician or health care providers to have a complete evaluation for dementia and Alzheimer's risk. 

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Bryan Reynolds
February 15, 2014
Bryan Reynolds is the Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations for Episcopal Retirement Services (ERS). Bryan is responsible for developing and implementing ERS' digital marketing strategy, and overseeing the website, social media outlets, audio and video content and online advertising. After originally attending The Ohio State University, he graduated from the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, where he earned a Bachelor of fine arts focused on electronic media. Bryan loves to share his passion for technology by assisting older adults with their computer and mobile devices. He has taught several classes within ERS communities as well as at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute run by the University of Cincinnati. He also participates on the Technology Team at ERS to help provide direction. Bryan and his wife Krista currently reside in Lebanon, Ohio with their 5 children.

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