Study Shows Family, Friends Better Than Doctors at Detecting Early Signs of Alzheimer's

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​It seems logical that when someone's brain is starting to deteriorate, her family and friends who see her every day would be more likely to pick up on it rather than a doctor who does a screening once a year.

Now doctors at the Washington University School of Medicine's Charles F. and Joanne Knight Alzheimer's Disease Research Center have proven that a questionnaire they developed is more accurate at detecting early signs of Alzheimer's than conventional screening tests. Instead of requiring a patient to memorize a list of words or compare the shapes of different objects, the Ascertain Dementia 8 (AD8) requires just two minutes from a close family member or friend, also known as an informant.

The Wash. U. researchers collected AD8 evaluations for 251 patients and them compared them with the results of the traditional cognitive test, plus biomarkers from tapping spinal fluid and scanning for brain plaque. The AD8 results corresponded more closely with the biomarkers than those from the cognitive test.

"It's not economically feasible to screen everyone for Alzheimer's disease biomarkers," said Dr. John C. Morris director of the Knight Center, in a press release. "The AD8 gives us a brief and very low-cost alternative that takes a few minutes of the informant's time to screen for dementia and thus identify those individuals who need follow-up evaluations to determine if there truly are signs of Alzheimer's."

In addition, Morris says, the AD8 test gives a more complete picture of the patient's mental state than the cognitive tests, which only show how the patient is doing when he or she is being tested.

The AD8 questionnaire asks the informants about eight different areas:

  • Problems with judgment, such as bad financial decisions;
  • Reduced interest in hobbies and other activities;
  • Repeating of questions, stories or statements;
  • Trouble learning how to use a tool or appliance, such as a television remote control or a microwave;
  • Forgetting the month or year;
  • Difficulty handling complicated financial affairs, such as balancing a checkbook;
  • Difficulty remembering appointments; and
  • Consistent problems with thinking and memory.

The results of the study appear in the journal Brain.

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