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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Testing Brain Health

"The large majority of people who take the test are going to have a normal score. Even though we hear a lot about Alzheimer's disease, not everybody gets it, not even half the people get it."
Angela Troyer, neuropsychologist, Baycrest Health Sciences, Toronto

"It's an industry now, producing tests for memory."
"When you're diagnosed with dementia, it's a devastating event. The more you can be helped through that process, the better."
Dr. Larry Chambers, medical adviser, Alzheimer's Society of Canada

And it is just that kind of help that propelled Dr. Troyer and her team to formulate and produce a new online memory test geared to evaluate peoples' responses to a set of exercises, like matching names to faces, identifying the location of hidden shapes, that kind of thing. Accessed at And when the test is taken by people who feel for whatever reason, motivated to take it, the response is just about instant, producing a score that can be used by the individual taking the test.

The new on-line memory test launched by Baycrest Health Sciences Centre in Toronto is not just another one of the many accessible dementia tests available on the Internet, many, if not most of which appear unreliable. The brain "thermometer" produced by the Baycrest Hospital feels its test is quite different, since it represents an evaluative tool created by scientists, tested in a study with 400 older people enrolled for that purpose.

Baycrest co-founded Cogniciti Inc., which it uses to market brain-health products. They have confidence in the reliability and usefulness of their test. Ohio State University had their own online quiz developed as well by a scientific group, and which appealed so popularly to the general public, its website crashed by the crush of traffic. Unlike the test, however, Ohio State's test is not accessed online.

It is a pen-and-paper test the results of which requires patients to visit a doctor to analyze the test score professionally on their behalf. The online Baycrest test produces an instant score revealing user ranks among people of the same age group as the individual taking the test, taking into account age -- between 50 and 79 -- and level of education attained.

In 2013 a University of British Columbia study assessed 16 tests at random, rating 12 of them scientifically invalid, and all of them lacking in ethics. A number which by no means comes even close to the proliferation of such tests on the Web. Julie Robillard, the post-doctoral fellow at UBC's National Core for Neuroethics who headed the Internet test research cautioned that even a test that is scientifically rigorous could be problematic in its effects.

Such tests, irrespective of outcomes can cause anxiety, can generate inappropriate demands for health care services, and fact reminds that even well-designed tests can be difficult to distinguish from the less-valid types in a huge pool of choices. "Then it becomes the job of the older adult or whoever to distinguish which is the good test. And that is a very difficult thing to do."
You keep an eye on your weight and blood pressure. Your brain health is just as important. With Cogniciti's Online Brain Health Assessment you can easily track your memory, attention, and executive function. We recommend repeating the assessment every 6 to 12 months.
Moreover, stresses Baycrest, its test should not be recognized as a diagnosis. It is meant to be viewed as a measurement of possible problems that might represent early signs of dementia onset. On the other hand, it could reflect fallout caused by anxiety, depression or lack of sleep. Anyone scoring in what is considered to a 'problem' range is urged to see a physician with the results of their test, for medical consultation.

Doctors feel that timely diagnosis can offer people the opportunity to aid their brain health by urging them to institute a better lifestyle, a more health-appropriate diet, and, should the diagnosis of approaching dementia be validated, preparation for the future to accommodate a gradually growing state of mental incapacity.
Science has shown a close link between regular exercise and brain health.  The Ontario Brain Institute released a report on exercise and Alzheimer's based on a review of major research studies.  Their conclusion is both startling and important: "In older adults without Alzheimer's disease those who were very physically active were almost 40% less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease than those who were inactive." Walking, swimming and dancing are great alternatives if your tennis and running days are behind you. If you're not able to walk or swim there is a great video series called "Stronger Seniors". This series has been designed by Anne Pringle Burnell, a certified instructor and faculty provider with the American Council on Exercise and the Aerobics & Fitness Association of America.

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