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Alzheimer's fears could be allayed by new test

One SAGE question asks test takers to identify

One SAGE question asks test takers to identify this object.

Alzheimer's casts a frightening specter, even for healthy older adults without a history of dementia in their families. These concerns can become a paralyzing fear for anyone who has seen a close family member fall victim to the disease.

A simple test that can be taken at home could help allay fears there is something seriously wrong or raise an alert that further examination is needed. The Self-Administered Gerocognitive Examination (SAGE) was developed by Dr. Douglas Scharre, director of the division of cognitive neurology at Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center. It can be downloaded for free at and can be completed in about 15 minutes. A recent study concluded that the test is a "feasible and efficient" tool for cognitive screening. The study results were published in a scientific journal earlier this year.

Scharre, who specializes in treating Alzheimer's, created the test because many patients came to him only after their cognitive disorders became critical and unmanageable. "Medicines, supervision and all sorts of things could have helped their life and their caregivers' lives if only we had identified the cognitive issues earlier," he says.

There are four variants of the test, each featuring 12 questions on logic, memory and spatial skills such as drawing simple objects. Out of a maximum score of 22, a score of 17 or higher is considered normal. You can get scoring instructions at

Be aware, the test does not diagnose Alzheimer's. For healthy adults, its main goal is to set a baseline of cognitive function so any future changes can be an early-warning signal something may be wrong. But a bad test score could indicate that further examinations are necessary. "Sometimes it's shocking to family members how poorly they do," Scharre says.

Scharre recommends the completed test be given to your doctor for your file as a baseline and to retake the test every year. "It really is critical for patients to take it into their physician," he says.

Perhaps the best attribute of the test is it can help ease the minds of the vast majority of people who are healthy but have become obsessed with fears of Alzheimer's, a group Scharre calls "the worried-well." Scharre and his research team found that 95 percent of people without cognitive issues had normal SAGE scores. "There are people that are so concerned about cognitive decline because maybe their mom or dad had it," Scharre says. "They'll get near-perfect scores on SAGE, and you can tell them, 'It's very unlikely that anything serious is going on.' "

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