Simple test offers early dementia warning

Two-page questionnaire detects 93% of patients with Alzheimer's, scientists say

A memory test that can detect the early stages of Alzheimer's disease has been developed by doctors who say it can be self-administered by anyone concerned about dementia.

A study found that the two-page questionnaire could detect 93 per cent of patients with Alzheimer's disease compared to the standard dementia test which accurately detected only 52 per cent of cases. Questions included remembering a phrase, doing sums, identifying parts of a man's suit and drawing the time on a blank clock face.

Jeremy Brown, a consultant neurologist at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, who helped to devise the "test your memory" (TYM) test, said its great advantage was that patients could fill in the form themselves – although it must be left to doctors to diagnose the illness. "It's a new screening test for Alzheimer's disease. It's not a diagnostic test but a test that allows a quick screening of patients with memory complaints to sort out those who need to be sent on for further assessment," Mr Brown said.

"The current standard test, called the mini-mental state examination, has been around for 50 years and takes about eight minutes to complete. It is not particularly sensitive in detecting Alzheimer's disease, whereas the new test can be filled in by the patients themselves and it only takes about a minute for the doctor to make an assessment," he said.

The TYM test is made up of 10 tasks designed to assess a person's mental abilities in areas such as semantic knowledge, calculation, verbal fluency, spatial knowledge and mental recall.

It is designed so that most healthy people with no educational problems would be able to score highly, achieving near to the maximum of 50 points. People with Alzheimer's tend to score an average of 33 points out of 50 and people with mild cognitive impairment score an average of 45 out of 50.

The study involved 540 healthy individuals and a further 139 patients diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. "The TYM can be completed quickly and accurately by normal controls [healthy people]. It is a powerful and valid screening test for the detection of Alzheimer's disease," the authors wrote in the British Medical Journal.