Alzheimer's online test crashes university site

A new website that helps determine whether someone might have Alzheimer's disease or dementia is so popular that the site crashed temporarily.

Test feasible and efficient to screen people for cognitive impairment, researchers say

A new website that helps determine whether someone might have Alzheimer's disease or dementia is so popular that the site crashed temporarily.

Ohio State University's website says its Self-Administered Gerocognitive Exam (SAGE) is a test that can be done in your own home with a paper and pencil.

Questions and tests include:

  • How many nickels are there in 60 cents?
  • What is today’s date? (no cheating)
  • Draw a large face of a clock and place in the numbers for a specific time of day.

When researchers visited 45 community events where they asked people to take the simple test, they found that of the 1, 047 who did it, 28 per cent were identified with cognitive impairment, test developer Dr. Douglas Scharre of Ohio State and his team reported Monday in The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences.

Researchers in Ohio say the SAGE test has been shown to be effective in spotting the early signs of cognitive decline. (Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center)

Participants were told the test represented their baseline level, which doctors could use for future comparisons during re-screening.

10 warning signs

  • Memory loss affecting day-to-day abilities — forgetting things often or struggling to retain new information.
  • Difficulty performing familiar tasks — forgetting how to do something you've been doing your whole life, such as preparing toast or getting dressed.
  • Problems with language — forgetting words or substituting words that don't fit the context.
  • Disorientation in time and space — not knowing what day of the week it is or getting lost in a familiar place.
  • Impaired judgment — not recognizing a medical problem that needs attention or wearing light clothing on a cold day.
  • Problems with abstract thinking — not understanding what numbers signify on a calculator, for example.
  • Misplacing things — putting things in strange places, like an iron in the freezer or a wristwatch in the sugar bowl.
  • Changes in mood and behaviour — exhibiting severe mood swings from being easy-going to quick-tempered.
  • Changes in personality — behaving out of character such as feeling paranoid or threatened.
  • Loss of initiative  — losing interest in friends, family and favourite activities.

Source: Alzheimer's Society of Canada

"What we found was that this SAGE self-administered test correlated very well with detailed cognitive testing," Scharre said in a release. "If we catch this cognitive change really early, then we can start potential treatments much earlier than without having this test."

The Alzheimer Society of Canada says early diagnosis can help with planning, care and support.

CBC health commentator and physician assistant Maureen Taylor said while she supports patient knowledge, there aren't great treatments to turn back the course of the disease.

"My worry is that some people will do it and there may be other reasons why they're having memory issues and can't complete this test that have nothing to do with dementia or Alzheimer's," Taylor said. "It just underscores that you need to talk to your doctor if you have concerns."

Online tests for Alzheimer's disease are controversial.

Last year, an expert panel told the Alzheimer's Association International found that 16 freely accessible online tests for the disease scored poorly on overall scientific validity, reliability and ethical factors.