In the last decade, there has been a major emphasis on early detection of dementia. Currently there are an estimated 3.4 million elderly Americans diagnosed with dementia, while another 5.4 million suffer from mild forms of cognitive impairment.
Recently, researchers from Boston developed a screening test to help identify individuals with early cognitive impairment. The test is designed to quickly identify people who have problem with learning, thinking and memory. Classified as “The Sweet 16" for its 16-point scale, the test rapidly exposes telltale signs of dementia through a cognition grading system that ranks mental skills from a low score of zero up to a high of 16.
However, the researchers who have formulated this test caution that it still needs further analysis to ascertain its reliability, particularly if it is to be compared to the already well -established measure of cognitive dysfunction-- the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE). The investigators indicate that unlike the MMSE the Sweet 16 is faster and can identify early cognitive impairment.
"For many older adults, cognitive impairment contributes to loss of independence, decreased quality of life and increased health-care costs. While the public health impact of cognitive impairment is clear, this condition is often under-recognized," said Dr. Tamara G. Fong, of Hebrew Senior Life, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School .
Fong also added, ""A simple, rapid cognitive assessment instrument is therefore a valuable tool for use in both clinical and research settings."
Even though the MMSE is the current gold standard test for dementia testing, it is not ideal for all dementia and the test is not universally applicable to all patients with dementia.
The current 16-point test is heavily focused on ability to recall skills, verbal memory performance, and orientation issues such as the ability to identify a person, place, time and/or situation. The test is fast and does not involve any writing. When compared with the MMSE, it has been shown to have higher sensitivity in detecting cognitive impairment.