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Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

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New Screening Tool for Dementia

Checklist Gauges Ability of Older Adults to Perform Everyday Tasks
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

July 2, 2008 -- Grandma seldom forgets where she puts her keys. Check.

She can still whip up her favorite dish while regaling you about Uncle Joe's latest escapades. Check.

She always knows where her car is parked, and might even point out where yours is, too. Check.

Answering basic questions that track an older adult's ability to perform everyday tasks may help doctors detect the early warning signs of dementia. However, until now methods to assess everyday function have been limited.

Now researchers have developed a quick and easy screening tool called Everyday Cognition (ECog), which can reveal changes in older adults' basic mental abilities over time when filled out by someone who is close to them. For example, an adult child may answer questions about a parent or spouses may answer questions about each other.

Sarah Tomaszewski Farias, PhD, of the University of California, Davis, and colleagues came up with a new questionnaire after evaluating data on 576 adults about 77 years old and interviewing health care professionals who worked with people with dementia. The idea for ECog stemmed in part from a concept that suggests one could measure different areas of everyday function by matching specific tasks to particular cognitive abilities.

The team identified seven key cognitive areas: memory, language, factual knowledge (semantics), visuo-spatial abilities, planning, organization, and divided attention, and eventually came up with 39 questions.

How the Checklist Works

The checklist asks reliable informants -- people who lived with or know the older adult well -- to compare an adult's current ability to perform specific tasks to 10 years ago. Is the older adult's ability better, questionable, a little worse, or much worse?

For example:

"Compared to 10 years ago, has there been any change in ..."

  • Remembering where she/he has placed objects
  • Forgetting the names of objects
  • Remembering the meaning of common words
  • Following a map to find a new location
  • Finding his/her way around a familiar neighborhood
  • Planning the sequence of stops on a shopping trip
  • Keeping living and work space organized
  • Keeping financial records organized
  • Cooking or working and talking at the same time

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