Tests for cognitive problems, early Alzheimer’s and the risk of developing the disease are already available or in the works and boomers are going to have to make a choice.
Do you want to know? Or do you not want to know? (Oh for the days when the big question was “Are you on the bus or off the bus?”)
The correct answer: absolutely, you need to know.
An easy first step to finding out about your cognition is a free, game-like brain health test you can do online at home. It was developed by the memory experts at Baycrest Health Sciences for people in the 50 to 79 age bracket.
The test taps into areas such as memory and attention, which are affected by aging and brain disease, and takes about 20 minutes to complete. It’s available to the public at www.cogniciti.com.
When you’re finished, “you’ll get a report about how you’ve done relative to people your age,” says neuropsychologist Angela Troyer, director of the Memory and Aging Program at Baycrest.
“It’s not a test of Alzheimer’s or brain problems,” she explains. “When healthy people take it, there’s a range of performance. Most people fall in the normal, healthy range for their age. If someone scores quite a bit lower than the average, it’s time to get it checked out.”
Sometimes, she says, cognitive problems are reversible, caused by a vitamin deficiency or stress.
The small percentage (approximately 2 to 3 per cent) that scores below average for their age and education will be encouraged to re-test after a week.
If their score again falls below the normal threshold for their age, they’ll receive a personalized report to help them start the conversation about their brain health with a doctor. Since the test became available in May, more than 20,000 people have taken it.
There’s also news about a simple blood test that can predict with greater than 90 per cent accuracy if a healthy person will develop mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease within three years.
As reported recently in the online journal Nature Medicine, the test identifies 10 lipids, or fats in the blood that predict disease onset. Researchers say it could be ready for use in clinical studies in as few as two years. It’s the first known published report of blood-based biomarkers for preclinical Alzheimer’s.
Nevertheless, many people would prefer not to find out about how their brains are aging.
“Some people are afraid of what they might learn,” says Troyer. “They think, ‘If it’s bad news, I’ll face it when I have to face it.’ But the large majority — the worried well — could be reassured.”
“Reprinted with permission from everythingzoomer.com, the lifestyle site for people 45+.