Alzheimers memory test

Long-Term Memory Test Could

Doreen Stewart would seem like the model of healthy aging: the 73-year-old walks around the golf course, is cheerfully articulate and obtained a university science degree — after retiring as a nurse.

But in an era when the spectre of Alzheimer’s hovers above older people like a neurological Damocles sword, the Calgary resident could not help but wonder just how sharp her faculties were.

“I’m in the over-70 group, and I think we all have questions about the stress of aging, ” said Ms. Stewart. “We certainly hear a lot about dementia.”

In response, she took a new, online memory test to be officially launched Tuesday by Toronto’s respected Baycrest Health Sciences. It comprises a series of exercises — such as matching names to faces and recalling the location of hidden shapes — and an almost instant score at the end.

There is no shortage of purported dementia tests available on the Internet — one expert calls it an “industry, ” while another discovered that most are rather unreliable.

The Baycrest brain “thermometer” aims to set itself apart as a tool created by scientists and rigorously tested in a study of 400 older people. While it could result in early detection of problems, the neuroscience centre hopes the exam will also reassure many people that their memory lapses are nothing to fret about.

“The large majority of people who take the test are going to have a normal score, ” said Angela Troyer, a neuropsychologist and leader of the project. “Even though we hear a lot about Alzheimer’s disease, not everybody gets it, not even half the people get it.”

Baycrest and Cogniciti Inc., the company it co-founded to market brain-health products, have reason to believe the test — available at cogniciti.com — could be a hit. An online quiz developed by another scientific group — at Ohio State University — proved so popular after launching in January, its web site crashed.

While Ohio State’s pen-and-paper exam requires patients to take their results to a doctor to assess, though, Baycrest’s spits out a score indicating where the user ranks among people of the same age — between 50 and 79 — and education level.

‘It’s very common … that people worry about their memories’

Meanwhile, the Web is replete with exams of less-reputable origin that also advertise a quick measure of cognitive soundness. A University of British Columbia study last year looked at 16 tests and rated 12 as scientifically invalid, and all as ethically lacking.

“It’s an industry now, producing tests for memory, ” said Dr. Larry Chambers, medical advisor for the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada.

The Baycrest entry seems to be well-designed, but even one that is scientifically rigorous and deals with ethical issues like confidentiality could be problematic, warned Julie Robillard, the post-doctoral fellow at UBC’s National Core for Neuroethics who headed the research on Internet tests.

As well as potentially causing anxiety or generating inappropriate demand for health care services, even well-crafted quizzes sit in a confusing pool of less-valid ones, said Ms. Robillard.

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