‘Senior Moment’ or Early Dementia? Online Test Tells You When to Call Doctor

One of the challenges of entering mid-life is that memory and attention become less sharp than when we were young. Is this increased forgetfulness simply normal aging or the early signs of something more serious such as Alzheimer's? 

Credit: iStock

Doctors at Toronto’s Baycrest Hospital saw the need for a private, science based test that adults could take unsupervised at home to help them answer the question: “Is my memory normal or should I see my doctor?” 

The Cogniciti test works like an “online thermometer for the mind.” The web-based cognitive test takes about 20 minutes to complete and is targeted for the 50-79 age bracket. Since its launch one year ago this May, it’s had 108,000 visits from 76,000 adults who have completed 34,000 assessments.

We spoke with Dr. Angela Troyer, Professional Practice Chief of Psychology and Program Director, Neuropsychology and Cognitive Health, at Baycrest Health Sciences in Toronto, and Michael Meagher, President of Cogniciti Inc. to discuss this test, and to answer our questions on memory loss and aging.

cogniciti memory test
Credit: Cogniciti

What Test-Takers Get

How Many Canadians Are Diagnosed With Alzheimer or Dementia?

According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, in 2011 there were 747,000 Canadians living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, a figure that represents about 15 per cent of the Canadian population that is age 65 and older. Because of shifting demographic trends, by 2031, this figure will increase to 1.4 million.

Barriers to Diagnosis

Many memory disorders develop gradually over time, with no obvious start point. At the early stage, it is difficult to tell the difference between the normal memory changes that everyone experiences and memory changes that herald the beginning of a memory disorder.

Proper diagnosis requires a thorough medical work-up. There are no blood tests or imaging tests that can tell you if you have Alzheimer disease. Before a clinical diagnosis can be made, you are likely to see a family practitioner, a medical specialist such as a neurologist or geriatrician, and possibly a neuropsychologist.

Are “Senior Moments” Normal?

A number of cognitive changes are completely normal with age. Some of the most common are losing your train of thought, misplacing household items (keys, mobile phone), having difficulty remembering the name of an acquaintance, walking into a room and not remembering why, forgetting to do something you intended to do, and having trouble coming up with a specific word that you want. For the large majority of people, these common slips are nothing to worry about.

When Should We Worry?

If these problems have significant consequences, such as having to have your house locks changes several times because you lost your keys yet again, or leaving your grand kids at the curb side because you forgot to pick them up after school – then it’s time to take your concerns to your doctor.

If other people are MORE concerned about your memory than you are. If you have significant memory problems, you probably forget some of the incidents where you have slipped up, and you may not realize how prominent the problems are.

What Causes Dementia?

The most common causes of dementia are:

These conditions are associated with different types of pathological changes in the brain that impact cognition or thinking ability.

Does A Stress or Trauma Harm Memory?

Stress can have a direct impact on the brain, which in turn can impair memory. The good news is that we have a lot of control over whether and how stress impacts our bodies and our brains.

The antidote to stress is relaxation, and even when you are under a great deal of stress, relaxation can help minimize the negative effects of stress. There are many ways this can be achieved, such as practicing mindfulness, deep-breathing, imagery, or other formal relaxation techniques, or simply engaging in leisure activities that you find relaxing, such as going for a long walk, listening to music, or having a heart-felt talk over tea with a good friend.

Who is Most At Risk?

On the positive side, a number of risk factors are controllable. Participating in an active, engaged lifestyle can help maintain your brain health. Also, controlling health conditions such as depression, hypertension and diabetes, and quitting smoking can have beneficial effects.

What Steps Do You Take When You Suspect a Loved One Has Dementia?

This is never an easy task and should be done with much respect and empathy. Remember that people with significant memory impairments are not likely to be aware that they have a memory impairment.

They will not remember that they ask you the same question over and over again, nor will they recall the many times they have forgotten to call or meet up with you. The best thing is to have an open, respectful conversation about your concerns and not be surprised if your loved one does not agree with you. If they receive the message that you are genuinely concerned about their welfare, they may agree to the next step of talking to their doctor.

Take the free Cogniciti test here