Itís no surprise that as people get older, their memories fail and their thinking becomes foggier. What may be startling is that thereís no simple, quick, readily available test to gauge their cognitive decline. Researchers from Boston report today in the Archives of Internal Medicine on a new tool that could fill that gap, providing important information for older people and their doctors.
Dr. Tamara Fong of the Institute for Aging Research at Hebrew SeniorLife led a team that developed a test they call the Sweet 16. Itís short, taking an average of two minutes to complete its 16 questions. That compares favorably with the commonly used Mini-Mental State Examination, which takes up to 15 minutes to administer. The MMSE is also copyrighted, meaning users have to pay a fee. The test is also believed to be weak on picking up problems among well-educated older people and while overdiagnosing people with little education.
The Sweet 16, which tests memory and orientation -- where you are and what day it is -- was compared in two different groups to the longer MMSE and found equivalent or superior to the MMSE and other tests.
The test is a screening tool, and doesn't produce a diagnosis, Fong said in an interview. She sees it helping doctors determine which patients might need to see a specialist.
ďBusy primary care physicians wonít have time to do a long screening evaluation. They have only 15 minutes with their patients," said Fong, who is also a neurologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. ďIt can be used in a primary care setting with patients whose memory is not as good as used it to be. They can do a quick test.Ē
The test is available on Hebrew SeniorLifeís website, intended for physicians or researchers to use. Fongís group developed the test because they wanted a faster, freely available tool for their ongoing research into delirium. While she hopes the Sweet 16 will be useful in many settings, she recommends that patients take the test in their doctorís office where someone will be able to interpret the findings. All screening tests have limitations and are not substitutes for clinical judgment, she said.
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|White Coat Notes covers the latest from the health care industry, hospitals, doctors offices, labs, insurers, and the corridors of government. Chelsea Conaboy previously covered health care for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @cconaboy.|
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