A quick online assessment tool can help worried seniors find out if they are at risk of developing dementia and determine whether they should seek a comprehensive, face-to-face diagnosis from a physician. The tool has been developed by Johns Hopkins researchers.
The tool, which is being refined and validated, is not meant to replace a full evaluation from a doctor that includes a physical exam, blood work, imaging studies and more. Instead, this assessment provides a scientific way to help a person educate herself about a disease that doctors now believe is best managed if caught early.
"Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia don't just creep up on you. They're incubating for decades in the brain. This tool is potentially very useful in determining who is at risk," said Jason Brandt, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the leader of the study.
Among the questions asked on the Dementia Risk Assessment are about whether a person has a history of high blood pressure, depression, diabetes, high cholesterol or head injury, all of which are considered well-documented risk factors for dementia. The assessment also includes a simple memory test that could point to a subtle cognitive decline, Brandt said.
The study analyzed responses from 357 people over the age of 50 who took the assessment at www.alzcast.org. Those who scored lowest on the memory test were significantly older, and were more likely to be men, have hypertension and report severe memory problems. And while only 9 percent of respondents reported they had severe memory problems, more than one-third said they had a first-degree relative with dementia or severe memory loss - a major risk factor for the condition.
The assessment takes just five to 10 minutes to complete online, and the questions have been borrowed from other scientifically valid assessments.
The study has been published online in the journal Alzheimer's and Dementia.