Is There a New Way to Test for Dementia?

It is a nightmare for many families. A senior shows signs of cognitive mental challenges–becomes forgetful and eventually is unable to live on their own. An adult child take control of the senior’s affairs in order to pay for bills and arrange for long-term care. But when the family member checks banks accounts they discover that the senior’s nest egg has been demolished. Tens of thousands of dollars have been funnelled out to strangers. The senior was the victim of financial exploitation, and now there is little money to pay for the long-term care that they need.

Believe it or not, this scenario occurs frequently. Dementia and Alzheimer’s are not rare diseases; they strike large portions of the population. Yet, because the signs build up only slowly, many family members do not realize the scope of their parent’s mental decline until far too late–after they hurt themselves in an accident or are financially decimated in a scam.

Because of the risks, elder law attorneys frequently remind residents to be proactive–checking up on loved ones frequently and putting legal documents in place to identify problems early on.

Early Detection
A recent development may offer even more help in the fight to combat exploitation of vulnerable seniors. Researchers at the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Northwestern University have developed a new test that may offer the easiest method yet of testing for dementia. If widely used, it may help professionals diagnose dementia early on, allowing protections to be put into place for the resident.

The research, published this month in Neurology, has drawn considerable attention. Though, it is only a first step in this line of research, and more needs to be done to determine if it is a truly reliable diagnostic tool.

As reported by Forbes, the test used in the study involves a simple task: identifying the names of famous face after looking at a picture of them. Subjects are also scored on whether they recognize the face (but not the name) and can recall anything about the person. The study placed two groups of subjects between the ages of 40 and 65 through the facial recognition test. One group had already diagnosed early-onset dementia, the other did not.

The score results were very striking, with the dementia-group performing only about half as well as the other group. Brain scans taken of the participants also showed a loss of brain tissue in those with dementia.

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