Simple words help diagnose mild dementia

November 26, 2008

A team of national researchers have developed a rapid screening test to detect mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

Three simple-little words, along with a simple drawing, can help diagnose mild cognitive impairment in three minutes. The new screening tool, called the Mini-Cog, was developed by researchers at Emory University’s Woodruff Health Sciences Center. Together with a functional Activities Questionnaire, the Mini-Cog can accurately diagnose mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and undiagnosed dementia, which are often the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease. 
The new screening instrument, referred to as the MC-FAQ, allowed the researchers to correctly classify the 204 participating elderly individuals as cognitively normal, demented, or mildly cognitively impaired with a high degree of accuracy (83%). Approximately 30% of participants had MCI, and 32% were very mildly demented.
The three little words are penny, apple, and table. A tester recites the three words and then has the patient recall them. Patients were also given a piece of paper with a blank circle and asked to draw a clock that read ten minutes after eleven. The questionnaire was filled out by family members. They rated the patients’ performance on daily activities in four categories ranging from “normal” to “dependent.” 
“Since current medications can only delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease but are not able to reverse its devastating effects, a test like this is key to helping individuals detect this devastating disease earlier and maintain a good quality of life for as long as possible,” said James Lah, M.D., of Emory University School of Medicine, in Atlanta, Georgia, the lead investigator of the study.

According to Dr. Lah, screening for mild cognitive impairment is difficult and requires up to an hour of neuropsychological testing obtaining an 80 % accurate diagnosis rate. The new, three-minute test was 74 percent accurate in classifying people. “While this may not seem over impressive, it is quite remarkable for a three-minute test,” Dr Lah said, adding that the test was “also extremely inexpensive, easy to administer and score, and requires no special training.” The findings are published in the online edition of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.