Facing Alzheimer’s disease is one of the biggest concerns of seniors. Of course, going through such a disease can be scary, but there are tools, tests, and ways to detect early cognitive impairments and signs that show the possibility of dementia.
In this article, we’ll overview this disease’s early signs and symptoms and introduce early dementia tests that can prove useful and even speed up the diagnosis procedures, hence being helpful tools for combatting this disease.
What Are the Early Signs of Dementia?
Dementia refers to a variety of diseases that impair cognitive abilities such as remembering, thinking, making decisions, and solving problems. Its most common type is known as Alzheimer’s disease. There’s only one fact of fortune about this condition: It does not happen overnight. Noticing the early signs of Alzheimer’s and taking action can lead to a faster and easier diagnosis and treatment procedure. Also, it may even slow down the progress of the disease to later, more severe stages.
In case you are not familiar with the changes dementia can bring, here are the common early signs of dementia:
- Memory loss, especially regarding recent events
- Difficulty with carrying out usual daily tasks
- Having problems concentrating
- Losing the sense of time and place
- Language-related problems like not finding the right word
- Changes in mood and behaviour
After noticing these signs, the next natural step is to try out proper, accurate tests sensitive to the early cognitive changes in dementia.
What Are Some of the Most Accurate Online Alzheimer’s Tests?
The most important thing to consider is that not all tests on the internet are reliable. So not every link representing “cognitive impairment screening” is going to give you valid results.
We strongly recommend you to go for tests validated by academic experts, the most common of which we will introduce in this section.
These short, effective tools can help you detect early signs of dementia, leading to a faster diagnosis, hence delaying its progression.
Cognitive Tests for Dementia
There are a number of tests that can detect early cognitive decline, but two medical tests are used as the most common forms of assessment:
MMSE (Mini-Mental State Exam): The Most Widely Used Early Alzheimer’s Test
This test, also known as the Folstein test, lets a professional evaluate the condition of a patient based on a 30-point scoring system. The questions cover five categories, including:
- Attention and Calculation
If the assessment is done properly, the test scores can also inform the professional of the patient’s current condition. The scoring system suggests that out of 30 points:
- 20-24 points show signs of mild dementia.
- 13-20 suggest moderate dementia.
- Less than 12 points indicate severe dementia.
MMSE is the most commonly used tool to measure levels of cognitive impairment. On average, every person with Alzheimer’s disease scores two to four points less on this test each year.
Mini-Cog: A Short and Common Cognitive Test for Dementia
Think of Mini-Cog as a mini screening tool for cognitive decline. This short test only takes about 3 minutes of your time and returns relatively accurate results. Of course, because of how simple its administration and scoring method are, it cannot really substitute for a full diagnostic evaluation.
The Mini-Cog test consists of two parts:
- A 3-item recall test for memory, meaning you will be given three words to remember.
- A simple clock drawing test that requires you to set the numbers correctly on the face of a drawn clock and demonstrate a given time with the correct hand placement. Because usually, people who are in the earlier stages of Alzheimer’s find difficulty in reading time on analog clocks.
Although not comprehensive as a professional and medical diagnosis, these two tests can shed light on possible cognitive impairments. They may also speed up the diagnosis and treatment process.
But online tests, however efficient, are not the only way to identify early signs of dementia. It’s safe to say that when it comes to measuring the risk of developing dementia, blood tests and genetic tests provide more reliable results, both of which we will explain below.
Is Blood Test for Alzheimer’s Accurate?
No test can confirm the 100 percent presence of dementia. Still, a blood test makes the diagnosis so much easier. Here’s why: about two decades before developing memory problems and confusion, both characteristics of Alzheimer’s dementia, the brain begins to accumulate harmful protein clumps.
Furthermore, there is a genetic variant of apolipoprotein E (APOE), known as APOE ε4. Possessing one or two copies of this variant increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease at an earlier age. Experts estimate that 25% of the population carries one copy of APOE ε4, while about 3% carry two copies. Of course, it doesn’t mean everyone possessing APOE ε4 alleles will indeed develop Alzheimer’s. But it is one of the major risk factors for this disease.
When we combine the blood test results and the presence or absence of the APOE ε4 alleles with the other important risk factor, age, it is possible to identify people at risk for an early onset of Alzheimer’s disease with an accuracy of 94%.
The only problem is that current blood tests cannot diagnose Alzheimer’s any sooner than the patient starts showing the symptoms.
Can Genetic Testing for Alzheimer’s Confirm Anything?
To talk about genetic tests for Alzheimer’s, we have to answer a question first: Is Alzheimer’s disease hereditary?
Generally speaking, you do not need a family history of dementia to develop it. It can happen to anyone. However, if a first-degree relative of yours, like parents or siblings, has Alzheimer’s, you may be at a higher risk of developing the disease later on.
There are two groups of genes that are associated with Alzheimer’s:
- Risk genes
- Deterministic genes
Risk genes increase the possibility of developing Alzheimer’s in a person, the first and most important of them being the APOE ε4 gene we discussed above.
We all inherit some form of APOE from our parents, but APOE ε4 is the only variant that plays a part in increasing the risk of Alzheimer’s. But remember that even inheriting two copies of it does not mean an individual will undoubtedly develop Alzheimer’s disease. There’s just a higher chance, no guarantee.
However, another group of rare genes directly and certainly cause an early-onset of Alzheimer’s, known as the deterministic genes. These genes are so rare that only 1% or less of Alzheimer’s patients possess them.
A genetic test can determine whether you are in possession of either of these gene categories, which will help you seek professional help afterwards. But normally, a genetic counsellor should offer services to individuals who are about to undergo this test, just in case knowing the results require making some decisions. Seeking advice from a professional helps you know all the necessary information before taking any action.
So in rare cases, genetic testing can lead to something more than the possibility of the development of the disease. However, you should know that routine genetic testing for Alzheimer’s is not something that health care professionals recommend.
Although these tests are valuable tools to screen early stages of dementia, they do not substitute for a professional diagnosis. So it’s best not to rely on their results only and seek the help of a practitioner or a doctor.
Always keep in mind that dementia is still the subject of many academic research and studies, and while we like to have 100% accurate diagnosis and treatment methods, there’s so much about this disease that is left for discovery.
While our hearts go to every patient who is fighting Alzheimer’s, we know that this disease is only scary because it is unknown. The best we can do is to stay hopeful that one day, science successfully cracks the code to the full treatment of dementia. But until then, we should learn to stay strong and keep fighting for a better life, even if Alzheimer’s is there to accompany us.