A New 5-Minute Test For Dementia Is Here—Would You Take It?

A New 5-Minute Test For Dementia Is Here—Would You Take It?

An estimated 5.8 million people in the U.S. have Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, but the condition can be tricky to diagnose. Patients usually are put through a series of tests, and it can be tough for primary care physicians who usually do the tests to know what to do with the results. If you have a family member going through this ordeal, you know how frustrating it can be.

Now, researchers from the Montefiore Health System have created a five-minute assessment for dementia that can be done by medical staff, making it accessible to a wide range of people.

The test is called the “5-Cog paradigm,” and it’s designed to make the process of diagnosing mild cognitive impairment and dementia easier—and give patients and their doctors more information to break down next steps for treatment, says Joe Verghese, M.B.B.S., director of the Montefiore Einstein Center for the Aging Brain, and developer of the test. And that is a game-changer.

Caring for a loved one with cognitive issues is stressful. This assessment can help patients, caregivers, and their primary care doctors be more empowered about a diagnosis and possible treatment, says Verghese.

How does the test work?

The assessment is simple: It involves two picture tests and a walking test. During one picture test, a patient will look at four different pictures and be asked to memorize them. After a few minutes, they’ll be asked what those pictures were, Verghese says.

Another picture test has patients look at a set of symbols and numbers and match the two. The walking test is simple: Patients are observed as they walk in order to test their balance and ability to walk in a straight line.

The test was studied in 1,201 older adults in the Bronx, New York with cognitive concerns. Of the study participants, 72% of people were women, and 94% were Black and/or Hispanic/Latino. All of them came from zip codes that were designated as being in socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods.

The patients were randomly assigned to get either the new test or a control group that wasn’t tested. During a 90-day follow-up, the patients who went through the new test were three times more likely to have benefited from better dementia care actions, including getting a diagnosis for new mild cognitive impairment or dementia, being referred to specialists, and receiving medications.

Why is this an improvement from current dementia diagnoses?

“There are thousands of screening tests out there,” Verghese says, adding that he can’t say that his is “the best test ever.”

However, his screening test has something that others don’t: It helps guide people on what to do next. “We are pairing the results of this five-minute screening with recommendations,” Verghese says.

Verghese says that people are often screened for dementia, but primary care doctors aren’t sure what to do with the results. His initial research found the test to be helpful at screening patients and helping them know what to do next, and the test has now moved on to be studied even more.

“The results were so impressive that we were funded to do a follow-up trial,” he says. (They’re currently recruiting patients from 22 primary care clinics in New York and Indiana.)

Verghese stresses that the test isn’t totally new—the picture and walking tests, for example, “are already in our healthcare system and free.” But “the difference is now we put together a package of three tests in five minutes,” he says. When you add in the recommendations of what to do next with the results, the test is “innovative and impactful in primary care,” Verghese says.

While more research is happening with his assessment, Verghese is hopeful this will help patients in the future. “A lot of tests leave the primary care physician hanging,” he says. “They get abnormal results and they don’t know what to do. This can help."

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