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Free, Simple Test Screens for Memory, Thinking Problems

Art Chimes
A new study confirms that a self-administered, paper-and-pen test can be a reliable tool to screen large numbers of older adults for possible memory and thinking problems.

Tests that evaluate a person’s cognitive functioning - how they think and remember - are not new. But Douglas Scharre, who heads the Memory Disorders Research Center at Ohio State University, says most of these tests require a trained administrator, so they can be expensive. And some people are uncomfortable being asked questions face-to-face when they may not know the answer.

Emily Schornstein of Columbus, Ohio, takes a self-administered test designed to spot symptoms of cognitive issues like Alzheimer's disease. (Courtesy The Ohio State University)Emily Schornstein of Columbus, Ohio, takes a self-administered test designed to spot symptoms of cognitive issues like Alzheimer's disease. (Courtesy The Ohio State University)
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Emily Schornstein of Columbus, Ohio, takes a self-administered test designed to spot symptoms of cognitive issues like Alzheimer's disease. (Courtesy The Ohio State University)
Emily Schornstein of Columbus, Ohio, takes a self-administered test designed to spot symptoms of cognitive issues like Alzheimer's disease. (Courtesy The Ohio State University)
“The point was to do a self-administered test so that it would be easy for the physicians," Scharre said. "And the hope was that we could identify people sooner, and then get them evaluated [and] treated much sooner than was currently being done.”

Researchers previously found that the Self-Administered Gerocognitive Examination (SAGE) test can be a reliable screening tool. In a new research paper, Scharre and his colleagues report the test could be used effectively for mass screenings, such as at health fairs or community events.

Giving the test does not require any experts or fancy equipment, just a pen and the four-page test form that asks straightforward questions designed to evaluate a variety of brain functions.

“The questions include orientation questions - you know, day and date, things like that. Naming some objects...some calculations,” Scharre said. “Visual-spatial part of the brain: measuring how you can draw things. Plus memory and more...and it takes less than 15 minutes to complete."

Scharre stresses that the SAGE test is designed to screen for possible cognitive problems among older adults. It is not a test for Alzheimer's disease or any other specific problem.

“So, it is not a diagnostic test for any condition. It just sort of measures how you are thinking.”

The test is free, and is starting to be made available in other languages, as well as English.

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