A study led by researchers at San Francisco VA Medical Center (SFVAMC) has found that with the help of a simple test, a physician can predict people who may develop dementia within six years.
The test, which the researchers claim furnishes 87 per cent accurate results, is a 14-point index combining medical history, cognitive testing, and physical examination.
Lead study author Dr. Deborah E. Barnes, a mental health researcher at SFVAMC, says that the new index is the "bedside" version of a longer, more technically comprehensive "best" test, which is 88 per cent accurate.
According to researchers, the test can be conducted in a clinical setting such as a doctor's office or at a patient's bedside, and it does not require any special equipment.
"There are tests that accurately predict an individual's chances of developing cardiovascular disease and other maladies, but, until now, no one has developed similar scales for dementia," says Barnes, while presenting the tests at the 2007 International Conference on Prevention of Dementia in Washington, DC.
As per the "bedside" index, the risk factors for developing dementia are an age of 70 or older, poor scores on two simple cognitive tests, slow physical functioning on everyday tasks like buttoning a shirt or walking 15 feet, a history of coronary artery bypass surgery, a body mass index of less than 18, and current non-consumption of alcohol.
People who score 0 to 3 on the "bedside" test have a 6 per cent chance of developing dementia within six years. A score of 4 to 6 indicates a 25 per cent chance, while a score of 7 or higher hints a 54 per cent chance of developing dementia within six years.
With a view to developing the tests, the researchers tracked a broad range of physical, mental, demographic, and other variables for six years among 3,375 participants in the Cardiovascular Health Cognition Study, a national prospective study sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).
At the beginning of the study, none of the participants was afflicted by dementia. But by the end of the study, 14 per cent of them had developed the condition.
The authors say that the variables that were predictive of dementia in a statistically significant way became the basis of the tests. They, however, caution that the new scales need validation in further studies before they can become standard clinical tools.
"We certainly plan to look at other groups to see if these results are valid across a variety of populations," says Barnes.