Is There An At-Home Alzheimer Test? 12 Questions For Possible Patients
Updated September 06, 2019
Reviewer Debra Halseth, LCSW
Alzheimer's Disease is continuing to grow at an alarming rate. While it was once relegated to a handful of grandparents, and you might know a friend of a friend who has Alzheimer's, this condition has begun to affect countless people around the world, many of whom have not reached an age associated with the onset of dementia and the severe loss of function that comes with the condition.
Because it is such a frightening prospect, many people are eager to find a reliable form of early detection, to treat the condition most effectively. While there are not any definitive prevention methods or wholly reliable screening tests, there are a few ways to keep your eyes on the possible onset of Alzheimer's and dementia, one of them a simple series of questions.
First, a Definition: What Is Alzheimer's?
Alzheimer's disease is a neurodegenerative disorder characterized by a progressive (and in some cases aggressive) loss of memory. Memory loss does far more than make you forget a loved one's face or voice, however; memory loss can severely and negatively impact your ability to walk, stand, eat, speak, communicate, and function in everyday life, and is often accompanied by anxiety, depression, paranoia, and aggression.
As of the time of this writing, there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease. Symptoms may be managed and minimized, but even with treatment, the disease will continue to progress, albeit at a slower pace. Treatment frequently seeks to minimize the negative effects of Alzheimer's by encouraging neuroplasticity, engagement and practicing personal care, as all of these can be ravaged by the disease as it progresses.
Despite its status as an increasingly-common disease in people aged 65 and older, the precise cause of Alzheimer's is not known-only its effects and symptoms. While autopsies of people with Alzheimer's reveal foreign substances in the brain, depleted neural connections, and decreased gray matter, the "why" of these changes is not entirely understood, and therefore difficult to detect and impossible, at present, to prevent.
Alzheimer's Vs. Dementia
The term "Alzheimer's" describes a medical condition characterized by neurological decline and degeneration. It is a diagnosed condition that requires treatment and, in most cases, eventual hospitalization or home treatment as its progression worsens. Alzheimer's patients have demonstrable physical symptoms of the condition, as brain scans can reveal physical alterations in the brain to alert practitioners to the presence of Alzheimer's.
Dementia, conversely, is a broad term used to describe a state characterized by general mental decline. Dementia can include Alzheimer's but is not necessarily the same as Alzheimer's. Dementia can be caused by simple old age, as the brain begins to break down, or maybe linked to other conditions related to the loss of brain function. Dementia is not uncommon among older populations and is responsible for mental decline severe enough to alter a person's ability to function.
Simple forgetfulness in geriatric populations is not enough to warrant the term "dementia." There must be a clear degeneration in the ability to function at an age-appropriate level. Symptoms of dementia can include forgetfulness, difficulty focusing, difficulty completing simple hygienic tasks, and impaired reasoning skills. These may eventually turn into Alzheimer's or may hold steady at a basic mental decline.
Symptoms Of Alzheimer's
The symptoms of Alzheimer's and the symptoms of dementia are similar: both include neurological decline, both can be characterized by the loss of one's sense of self, personality changes, and losses in the ability to care for oneself. Alzheimer's, though, is more serious than dementia, and in addition to forgetfulness, Alzheimer's patients experience symptoms such as loss of spontaneity, impaired problem-solving skills, difficulty completing familiar tasks, persistent confusion, vision changes, developed difficulties with speaking, writing, or reading, and poor judgment.
The symptoms of Alzheimer's can come on suddenly, accompanied by a fatality prognosis of 3-4 years, or may come on gradually, with a fatality prognosis of 10 years or more. There are some risk factors in childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood, including the presence of mood, personality, or neurodevelopmental disorders, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Alzheimer's Risk Factors
In recent years, some risk factors have been identified for the development of Alzheimer's disease, some of them visible as early as childhood. In perhaps one of the most striking examples, researchers discovered a link between Autism Spectrum Disorder and other neurodevelopmental disorders and Alzheimer's Disease, suggesting that the presence of memory issues, impulsivity, vestibular and proprioceptive system difficulties, and speech issues may indicate a higher possibility for the onset of neurodegenerative disorders.
People with heart problems are also more likely to develop Alzheimer's. Heart attack, stroke, heart disease, and even high blood pressure are all linked to a higher likelihood of developing Alzheimer's disease, while regular exercise, healthy diets, and (healthy) coffee consumption are all linked to a lower likelihood.
Ultimately, age is the greatest risk factor for developing Alzheimer's disease. Being over the age of 65 is a significant risk factor, with the risk doubling every five years after that. By the age of 80, it is estimated that 1 in every three adults has Alzheimer's, providing age as a compelling risk factor for Alzheimer development.
12 Questions For Alzheimer's Screening
Although there is no single at-home test that can definitively determine whether or not you or a loved one has Alzheimer's or will have Alzheimer's, Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center created a simple12-step questionnaire designed to weed out the possibility of dementia and, potentially, Alzheimer's without having to visit the doctor. If your answers-or a loved one's answers-to the questionnaire indicate the possibility of Alzheimer's, a follow-up with a doctor is advised.
The questions on the test examine your ability to carry out everyday tasks, recall basic life information, recall language tasks, and engage in problem-solving skills-all processes that are significantly impaired when Alzheimer's is present. Although scoring low on the exam is not necessarily indicative of the presence of Alzheimer's, it does warrant further investigation with a qualified professional, who can assess your ability to complete age-appropriate tasks and answer age-appropriate questions.
While it may seem a daunting task to complete, the Wexner Center's test is deliberately simple and requires only 15 minutes, an internet connection, and a pencil and paper. The test is only five pages and asks you to complete a series of memorization exercises, problem-solving exercises, and drawing tasks, all of which would prove simple and straightforward for someone who enjoys optimal cognitive health.
Approximately 18% of people who take the test go onto be positively identified for dementia. This makes the test an exciting avenue in early detection, as it allows people to take charge of their health and determine for themselves when something has gone awry, rather than waiting until a doctor or other medical professional notices something is amiss and performs testing after dementia has already settled in.
Is There An At-Home Alzheimer's Test?
Yes and no. Although there is no single, doctor-approved method for determining whether or not Alzheimer's is on the horizon for you or your loved ones, there is a group of questions that can lend insight into the possible presence of Alzheimer's traits. These traits do not definitively mean that Alzheimer's will develop, nor that Alzheimer's has already begun to develop; instead, answering these questions can help you determine whether or not you feel you or your loved ones are at risk and can give you peace of mind regarding your immediate future, or give you the courage and determination to keep a close eye on the development of any symptom even broadly related to the disease.
Alzheimer's is arguably one of the most difficult diagnoses to receive. While no one wants to come down with any form of illness or disease, Alzheimer's can be frightening for many because the prospect of slowly losing your memory and your sense of self can feel immediately alienating, overwhelming, and downright terrifying, no matter how mild or severe the condition might be in its infancy. Alzheimer's is not a diagnosis that you can go alone; in this disease, family members and friends suffer alongside, struggling to help keep memories and bonds alive as the mind works hard to let go.
Alzheimer's can cause a lot of fear and uncertainty in the lives of people who have received a diagnosis, as well as their loved ones. Support groups can be immensely helpful in navigating the fear and grief inherent in Alzheimer's diagnoses, as can therapists and counselors. Learning how to effectively, safely, and appropriately express and manage grief is an important skill to learn if you or your loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, and mental health professionals may be able to help create plans to do just that.
Alzheimer's can be a terrifying diagnosis. Individuals, family, and friends can all feel lost, angry, and uncertain following diagnosis, or when symptoms of Alzheimer's have begun to arise. Keeping abreast of any symptom development can play an important part in early intervention, and can help you and loved ones create a plan for treatment, grieving, and disease management to help smooth the transition from a life free from Alzheimer's to life complicated by it.