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Quick and Easy Tests for Alzheimer's Disease

VirginiaLynne was a caregiver for in-laws with Alzheimer's, and she shares her extensive research in dementia and elder care to help others.

Screening for Memory Loss

Worried that someone you know is losing brain functioning? Maybe you are even worried about yourself. What is normal forgetfulness? This article gives you some simple, easy tests you can do at home to help you decide if you might need to consult a doctor.

test-for-alzheimers

This Article Includes

1. Simple, quick tests that you can to to check someone for memory loss.

2. Quizzes you can take to asses your own risk for Alzheimer's.

3. Casual questions you can ask to see if someone's memory is impaired.

4. Web-based, more extensive tests for dementia.

5. Information about genetic tests for Alzheimer's.

Simple Tests You Can Do At Home

Sometimes, it is hard to decide whether someone is having memory problems which are unusual. Many people with dementia become good at hiding their memory confusion. Luckily, there are some simple tests you can give to test a person's mental functioning. What I like about these sorts of tests is that you might be able to give some of these to a person without letting them know they are being tested (in case they would be resistant to that idea).

3-Minute Mini-Cog Dementia Test

One of the simplest tests is called the Mini-Cog and has three parts which take only a few minutes. Research shows it is 83% accurate in diagnosing memory impairment:

  1. Ask the person to repeat three unrelated words after you (example: ice cream, newspaper, ocean). If they can't do this after a few tries, that shows they are not able to learn new information.
  2. Ask them to draw a clock face with hands showing a particular time (without letting them see a clock or watch). A person with no memory problems should be able to draw a clock which has a shape and numbers in the right order and basically spaced correctly around the clock (not all on one side, for example).
  3. Ask them to repeat the same 3 words. A person with no memory impairment should be able to do this easily.

Anyone who has difficulty in completing these tasks should be seen by a doctor for a more in-depth screening.

More Easy Mental Quizzes

Doctors often use some of these simple mental tests in their examinations both to screen for dementia and also to detect whether a person is worsening in mental abilities. At every doctor's examination, I attended with my in-laws, our family physician would give them 3-4 of these tasks. I was amazed at how easily these tests showed when my in-laws had worsened in memory loss, even though I was not always able to tell that in our daily lives.

  1. Ask: What is today's date?
  2. Ask: Where are we? What city? Do you know the state?
  3. Ask them to copy a simple design like a triangle inside a rectangle, or a circle inside a square.
  4. Ask them to follow a 3-step command like get a glass, pour some milk and sit down at the table.
  5. Write down three instructions and have them follow them.
  6. Ask: Count backward from 100 by 7s.
  7. Have them write down a sentence you say orally.
  8. Have them spell words.
  9. Ask: Tell me how to get to the grocery store (or another familiar place).

These sorts of activities are part of daily living, and you may find you can do your "quiz" periodically without actually telling the person you are testing their memory. If your informal quiz leads you to suspect the person is having memory issues, it is vital to have them see a doctor for an evaluation.

Free Ohio State Sage Tests

The Ohio State University Medical Center's Department of Neurology has developed several free tests which you can download and use for free here Sage Test. There are several versions of this test that you can use. They are more complex than the oral tests above and might be good for someone who would resist having you test them, but might be willing to take a written test.

Sage Memory Test

Test Your Risk

What is your risk of getting Alzheimer's? If you've cared for a loved one with this disease, you probably are concerned about your own risk. Only consultation with a medical doctor can accurately determine your potential risk, but researchers have come up with short quizzes which can help you determine whether you should be tested in your 40s, 50s, 60s or later for memory loss. Try the quiz above to see your risk. It is adapted from the test given by Dr. Marwan Sabbagh in his book, The Alzheimer's Answer (p. 244).

What is Your Risk of Getting Alzheimers?

For each question, choose the best answer for you.

  1. Do you have a mother, father, sister or brother with Alzheimer's?
    • yes
    • no
  2. Have you ever had a head injury that made you lose consciousness?
    • yes
    • no
  3. Did you have more than 7 years of education?
    • yes
    • no
  4. Are you a woman?
    • yes
    • no
  5. Do you smoke?
    • yes
    • no
  6. Do you exercise more than 1 hour a week?
    • yes
    • no
  7. Do you have diabetes that isn't well controlled?
    • yes
    • no
  8. Have you ever had a heart attack?
    • yes
    • no
  9. Have you ever had a stroke?
    • yes
    • no
  10. Is your blood pressure over 140mmHg?
    • yes
    • no
  11. Is your cholesterol over 6.5 mmol/L
    • yes
    • no
  12. Are you AOP-Ee4 positive?
    • yes
    • no
    • don't know
  13. Are you over 85?
    • yes
    • no
  14. Are you over 75?
    • yes
    • no
  15. Are you over 65?
    • yes
    • no

Scoring

Use the scoring guide below to add up your total points based on your answers.

  1. Do you have a mother, father, sister or brother with Alzheimer's?
    • yes: -3 points
    • no: +0 points
  2. Have you ever had a head injury that made you lose consciousness?
    • yes: -2 points
    • no: +0 points
  3. Did you have more than 7 years of education?
    • yes: +0 points
    • no: -3 points
  4. Are you a woman?
    • yes: -1 point
    • no: +0 points
  5. Do you smoke?
    • yes: -2 points
    • no: +0 points
  6. Do you exercise more than 1 hour a week?
    • yes: +0 points
    • no: -2 points
  7. Do you have diabetes that isn't well controlled?
    • yes: -3 points
    • no: +0 points
  8. Have you ever had a heart attack?
    • yes: -2 points
    • no: +0 points
  9. Have you ever had a stroke?
    • yes: -4 points
    • no: +0 points
  10. Is your blood pressure over 140mmHg?
    • yes: -3 points
    • no: +0 points
  11. Is your cholesterol over 6.5 mmol/L
    • yes: -2 points
    • no: +0 points
  12. Are you AOP-Ee4 positive?
    • yes: -3 points
    • no: +0 points
    • don't know: +0 points
  13. Are you over 85?
    • yes: -5 points
    • no: +0 points
  14. Are you over 75?
    • yes: -4 points
    • no: +0 points
  15. Are you over 65?
    • yes: -1 point
    • no: +0 points

Interpreting Your Score

A score between -40 and -28 means: You are at very high risk for getting Alzheimer's. You should be screened annually by your doctor starting at age 40.

A score between -27 and -16 means: You are at high risk for Alzheimer's. Be sure to It would be a good idea to make sure you follow good mental health practices like eating well, keeping your weight under control, exercising, keeping your mind active, and having an active social life. You should get an annual screening by your doctor starting at age 40.

A score between -15 and -8 means: You are at moderate to high risk of Alzheimers. It would be a good idea to make sure you follow good mental health practices like eating well, keeping your weight under control, exercising, keeping your mind active, and having an active social life. See your doctor for regular check-ups and ask for memory test screening at 55.

A score between -7 and -4 means: You are low to moderate risk of Alzheimers. It would be a good idea to make sure you follow good mental health practices like eating well, keeping your weight under control, exercising, keeping your mind active, and having an active social life. See your doctor for regular check-ups, which should include memory test screening after 65.

A score between -3 and 0 means: You are at low risk for Alzheimer's. Continue to exercise, eat well, keep your weight under control, and keep your mind active. After 75, everyone should be screened annually for memory loss by a doctor.

Assessing Your Risk

Have you:yesno

one parent or sibling with Alzheimer's

3.5

0

more than one parent or sibling with Alzheimer's

7.5

0

Family history of Down's Syndrome

2.7

0

one head trauma with loss of consciousness

2.0

0

more than one head trauma without loss of consciousness

2.0

0

alcohol or drug dependence at some point

4.4

0

diagnosed as having major depression at some point

2.0

0

had stroke

10

0

had heart disease or heart attack

2.5

0

high cholesterol

2.1

0

high blood pressure

2.3

0

diabetes

3.4

0

history of cancer

3.0

0

seizures past or present

1.5

0

less than one hour exercise per week

2.0

0

didn't finish high school

2.0

0

job doesn't require learning new things

2.0

0

65-74 years old

2.0

0

75-84 years old

7.0

0

over 85 years old

38.0

0

smoked 10 years or more

2.3

0

one apolipoprotein E4 gene (if known)

2.5

 

two apolipoprotein E4 genes (if known)

5.0

 

Early Dementia Detection Questionnaire

For a fuller look at the possible risk factors, see the table below. It shows a somewhat shortened version of the test developed by Dr. William Shankle and Dr. Daniel Amen. To take the "Shankle-Amen" test, add up the points on your "yes" answers. According to Dr. Shankle,

  • If you score 0, 1, or 2: you have a low risk of developing Alzheimer's or dementia.
  • If you score 3, 4, 5, or 6: you should have an annual screen after age 50.
  • If you score over 6: you should have an annual screen after age 40.

Dr. Shankle and his wife, Junko, who is also a memory loss researcher, have created a website which has a Memory Skills Test which you can take if you register with them to help their research.

Blood Tests

While there is no test which can evaluate all risks, there are some blood tests that can help in assessment. If you or your loved one shows some signs of memory loss or if there is a genetic risk in your family, your doctor may order some of the following tests:

Homocysteine Blood Test

Homocysteine is a blood protein which can be analyzed in a simple blood test. If you have high levels of homocysteine it indicates a folic acid (B vitamin) deficiency which is linked with Alzheimer's, along with vascular dementia and cardiovascular problems. You can have this checked by your doctor.

Cholesterol Lipid Panel and Blood Pressure

Almost everyone who reaches middle age will have regular cholesterol-lipid panel tests and blood pressure readings as part of a yearly physical. Most doctors will help you to treat high cholesterol and/or high blood pressure in order to make sure your heart is healthy. Another reason to keep your cholesterol in the right range is because elevated cholesterol levels and high blood pressure also are an indicator of risk for Alzheimer's.

Early-Onset

Some genetic factors are known, especially in Alzheimer's which begins before age 65. Mutations in these three genes are the cause:

  • amyloid precursor protein
  • presenilin I
  • presenilin II

These mutations are rare but tend to run in families. This sort of early memory loss was shown in the documentary, The Forgetting, by Dale Shenk. See your doctor if you are concerned about these mutations in your family.

APO-E Gene

Another gene, which is easily tested for is the APO_E gene. Finding out she had two of these genes was what caused Jean Carper to research and write 100 Simple Things You Can Do to Prevent Alzheimer's, which she published when in her 70s, in part as a way of trying to stave off this disease. However, as Carper and others point out, having one or two copies of this gene does not necessarily translate into getting Alzheimer's. It is just added into your risk factors. You can have a test done for this gene by your doctor.

Delay Can Be Prevention

No one knows a cure for Alzheimer's but one of the most interesting things I've learned is that there are many practical things everyone can do to delay the disease. Many researchers believe if we can just delay the symptoms by 5 years, many of us will never experience the symptoms of this disease before we pass away from other causes. If you have been a caregiver of a person with dementia, like I have, you'll know that is good news.

5 Best Preventions

  1. Eat a healthy diet with lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
  2. Exercise 30 minutes a day.
  3. Keep your body weight and BMI in the right range.
  4. Get a higher education.
  5. Keep learning new things your whole life.
  6. Have a wide group of friends.
  7. Get regular check-ups from your doctor.
  8. Keep your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol in the right range.

What Should You Do First?

Dementia (memory loss) is a symptom which is caused by many different things, some of which are reversible. Especially if the memory loss has occurred quickly, it is important to be screened by a doctor. It is quite possible that a medical condition like diabetes or the side-effect of a drug is causing the forgetfulness, and not Alzheimer's. As a matter of fact, I thought my mother was developing memory problems but found out that actually was just experiencing severe hearing loss. When she got hearing aids, she was fine. So be sure to see a doctor.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Comments

KathyFlynn@cox.net on October 14, 2017:

Appreciate the sharing of free tests and results from studies related to Alzheimer's and other dimentia.

Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on August 12, 2016:

Hi Glenis--One thing about Alzheimer's is that the memories are still there, they just are hard to access. Also, the person often retains social memories until the very end. My father-in-law joked with a nurse just a couple of minutes before he passed away. My mother-in-law recognized my son and made a meaningful comment to him in her last days, even though most of the time she was speechless. Alzheimer's is also not really painful to a person. The end of both of my in-law's lives was very peaceful, safe, and painless. What is important is to make sure that hospice nurses are involved as soon as possible to be sure that the end of a person's life is as smooth as possible.

Glen Rix from UK on August 12, 2016:

Very scary subject. It raises for me the question of voluntary euthenasia (currently illegal in the UK but allowed in some other Western European countries). Should people have the right to choose and to make a living will?

Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on March 09, 2016:

Vocalcoach, I'm very sorry to hear about your sister. I agree that it is very hard to watch someone you love live with this disease.

Audrey Hunt from Idyllwild Ca. on March 06, 2016:

Thanks so much for this informative hub. My sister has been diagnosed with this terrible disease. Very painful to watch her decline day-by-day.

Mary Hyatt from Florida on February 27, 2013:

I think I did OK on the tests you mention, but I am going to ask my doctor to perform some of the blood work you mention. I do try to "exercise" my brain.

I think even the act of writing Hubs is good for our brains, don't you???

I always ask myself what would I do if I DID find out I have early Alzheimers.

Voted UP, etc.

Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on July 31, 2012:

Thanks Barbara--I appreciate you stopping by.

Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on July 31, 2012:

Yes Eric, I just learned about these ideas of prevention as I've been working on these articles. I'm already doing some of these things and want to include more of them into our family's life. I'm hoping to have a Hub all about prevention of Alzheimer's out soon.

Barbara Badder from USA on July 31, 2012:

This was an interesting detailed hub. It is good to know what we can do to help prevent it. Thanks.

Eric Calderwood from USA on July 31, 2012:

Someone in my wife's family had Alzheimer's. It is a very scary disease. It is good to know that there are things you can do to detect it earlier and to prevent or help delay it.

Margaret Perrottet from San Antonio, FL on July 31, 2012:

Fortunately for me, nobody in my family has ever had this terrible disease. I took the test, and so far so good. Lots of good information in this well organized hub - voted up, useful and interesting.