image by: Kritrim Vault
Self-administered online tests are a dime a dozen. But one of the simplest has shown itself an effective tool for showing you something about what's going on with your most complex organ
Although there are many medical conditions to fear out there in the big, bad world, dementia inspires a unique sort of dread in all of us, perhaps because dementia is a disease that seems to cut us off at the core, inexorably erasing our very identity.
As we collect an ever-increasing amount of data on dementia, the news looks both good and bad. For example, we have learned that Alzheimer's disease—the most common form of dementia—is usually an inherited condition, with several genes implicated in the development the plaque tangles that interfere with proper neuronal function. At the same time, there are several studies suggesting that some lifestyle factors may delay, minimize, or even obviate Alzheimer's symptoms, even when such tangles are present.
Because most symptoms of dementia—especially in its early stages—are non-physical, it is estimated that as many as three-fourths of all dementia cases worldwide are undiagnosed. Although currently there is no cure for dementia, a formal diagnosis puts victims in the pipeline toward potential therapies and treatments that may greatly improve their quality of life. Moreover, according to the Alzheimer's Association, "For nearly one in every four individuals who reported to a memory clinic with cognitive problems, their cognitive impairment was due to a reversible cause, such as depression or a vitamin B12 deficiency."
Early diagnosis, then, can be key to avoiding unnecessary suffering. And alerting yourself to a problem is far simpler than you might expect. In 2013 researchers at Ohio State University developed and field-tested their Self-Administered Gerocognitive Examination (SAGE). Consisting of only a dozen or so questions that can be completed in under 15 minutes total, researchers say SAGE "compare[s] favorably with current standard cognitive assessments that are not self-administered," detecting "four out of five people (80 percent) with mild thinking and memory (cognitive) issues."
Because SAGE can be easily found for free online, there is little barrier to stop anyone with even the slightest concerns about one's cognitive abilities from taking this preliminary exam. That goes for people who might seem too young for such diseases. As the Mayo Clinic points out, about 5% of people with Alzheimer's are under 65, with symptoms showing up for some as early as their 30s.
Although SAGE is not sufficient in and of itself to diagnose dementia, anyone who does poorly on the exam can bring it in to her primary-care physician for a more detailed evaluation. That is something Dr. Douglas Scharre, head of the Ohio State team that developed SAGE, says would be a needed step in the right direction, noting that he often does not see patients until three or four years after their first symptoms appeared
“It's a recurring problem," he laments. "People don’t come in early enough for a diagnosis, or families generally resist making the appointment because they don’t want confirmation of their worst fears. Whatever the reason, it’s unfortunate because the drugs we’re using now work better the earlier they are started.”
No-one is comfortable with the possibility of something going wrong with one's brain. But remaining in the dark is denying oneself the ability to minimize the problem. Knowledge is power, and SAGE is a tool of empowerment.
About the Author:
Except for a four-month sojourn in Comoros (a small island nation near the northwest of Madagascar), Greggory Moore has lived his entire life in Southern California. Currently he resides in Long Beach, CA, where he engages in a variety of activities, including playing in the band MOVE, performing as a member of RIOTstage, and, of course, writing.
His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, OC Weekly, Daily Kos, the Long Beach Post, Random Lengths News, The District Weekly, GreaterLongBeach.com, and a variety of academic and literary journals. HIs first novel, The Use of Regret, was published in 2011, and he is currently at work on his follow-up. For more information: greggorymoore.com
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