There are many low-tech, quick and inexpensive screenings that can give insight to an individual's cognitive health. The accuracy of such screenings is often debated. However, some are very useful to ascertain cognitive deficits.
One of the most common assessments is the clock-drawing test. Individuals are asked to draw a clock with the hands pointed at a specific time, such as "10:50" or "10 minutes to 11." The drawing is scored as a "10" if it is complete, accurate and well-organized, and the least representative is "1." If the image of the clock and time are distorted and inaccurate, then in all likelihood, the person has dementia.
Another "clock" test combines with a simple math task. The individual is given one minute to read the time on an analog clock and offered two attempts to get it right. Then, the individual is given three quarters, seven dimes and seven nickels and is asked to count a dollar's worth of change within three minutes, also offering two attempts.
Loss of smell, according to researchers, is an early sign of Alzheimer's disease. The beta-amyloid plaques that eventually destroy memory and other cognitive disabilities accumulate first in the areas of the brain that are responsible for odor perception. According to research findings reported by the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, participants who had mild cognitive impairment were given a 10-item sniff test, and those who misidentified more than two odors were five times more likely to progress to Alzheimer's disease than were those who performed better on the test. (The odors used were strawberry, lemon, lilac, clove, smoke, natural gas, soap, leather, menthol and pineapple).
If Alzheimer's disease or dementia is suspected, the doctor may perform various assessment tests to determine a diagnosis. A common assessment tool is based on the Folstein's test or Mini Mental Status Exam. The individual is asked to answer 30 questions involving such things as time and orientation, where they live and names of objects, and asked to count backward by sevens or to spell the word "world" backward. Another assessment a doctor might perform is asking the individual to name as many animals on a farm as they can in a minute. Naming fewer than 10 suggests slow mental functioning. Or, the doctor might ask the individual to describe similarities and differences between two items, such as an apple or an orange, as this test measures reasoning and planning abilities.
An individual without memory deficits can typically remember a list of words, such as three words, and recall them back to the one who is performing the test. Difficulty in recalling these words can indicate cognitive impairment.
Overall, these types of assessments are not diagnostic tests, and these screenings should be given by a health care professional. Poor results on these screenings may indicate probable cognitive impairment. However, more sophisticated testing is necessary to make a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease.
Alzheimer's Services will be conducting memory screenings throughout the month of November in various venues across the Greater Baton Rouge area. Contact the organization at (225) 334-7494 for more information.
Questions about Alzheimer's disease or a related disorder can be sent to Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, director of services at Alzheimer's Services of the Capital Area at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the organization at 3772 North Blvd., Baton Rouge.