Siobhan McNally tries out a new five minute test, invented by UK firm Cognetivity Neurosciences, which can predict the likelihood of getting dementia and multiple sclerosis later in life
I often think I’m losing my marbles. I’m always forgetting where I left my phone (in the fridge) or wedding ring (next to the iron where it lay untouched for five years). And I’ve even lost my teenage daughter several times but, sadly, she found me again.
Now that I’m 52, I often worry whether my forgetfulness is a sign of early dementia.
I asked my 76-year-old mum if there was any Alzheimer’s in our family and she looked confused and said she didn’t remember, which could be a worrying sign.
But now a new early test, invented by UK firm Cognetivity Neurosciences, can predict the likelihood of getting dementia and multiple sclerosis later in life.
Cognetivity’s Integrated Cognitive Assessment (CognICA) takes five minutes and gives an accurate measure of brain function.
I was a bit worried when I was asked to the take it. Did I really want to know what my chances of getting dementia were?
In the UK there are more than 850,000 people with dementia, and the Alzheimer’s Society projects this will rise to 1.6 million by 2040.
CognICA could soon be available at your GP surgery along with the other tests for over-50s, and will be as simple as getting your blood pressure checked.
Dr Tom Sawyer, boss of Cognetivity Neurosciences, explains: “One of the biggest factors in getting dementia is age, so it makes sense to have a test once you get past a certain age, like 40. Our test can spot early signs of deterioration.”
The test has already been rolled out in a few NHS Trusts, so the laborious, expensive traditional diagnosis screening could soon be replaced by a quick, cheap tool.
Currently, memory clinics screen people who are already cognitively impaired, or who have been referred by their families for becoming forgetful.
Dr Sawyer adds: “Then there are the patients who’ve just forgotten where they’ve parked their car. They panic and demand to be referred and a specialist has to spend hours with them, at a cost of thousands of pounds, to find there’s nothing wrong with them.”
Using the CognICA test on an iPad, the company claims doctors will be able to measure brain health and spot signs of dementia long before symptoms appear.
Dr Sawyer says: “Early detection means better treatment, the cost of which over a lifetime will be dramatically cheaper.” I’ve never taken a serious health scan before, except for blood pressure, so I was nervous to do the test.
Holding the iPad, my palms began sweating and I fluffed step one – entering my name and age – and had to start again.
The test measures your reactions to a fast-changing picture on screen for speed and accuracy. You tap right for a picture with an animal and left for anything else.
Instructions flashed up quickly, sending my thumbs flailing.
After a couple of trials, the test began and a series of images started appearing so fast that at first I kept making mistakes. Luckily the system allows for errors and I have been schooled in gaming by my daughter Jesse, so although you can’t cheat the test, if you’ve got quick thumbs you’re already one step ahead.
The speed at which your brain recognises pictures is a measure of its health but the test tricks you with unrecognisable images.
Halfway through I started to relax and enjoy the test, and at the end I was shocked to find I scored 98%. I felt like celebrating with a gin and tonic but it turns out that’s the last thing my brain needs.
Dr Sawyer explains: “Anything below 50% is cause for concern. But, like a blood pressure test, a raised result doesn’t mean you’re going to die from it. If you get an early indication, you can address it by changing your lifestyle.”
Although there’s no magic bullet, things like more exercise and not smoking and drinking so much all slow brain deterioration.
And Dr Sawyer says Aduhelm – a disease-modifying drug for Alzheimer’s approved in the US – could be a “game-changer for people with early stage dementia”.
Later I told my daughter what my CognICA score was. She said: “Cool, that means in gaming you’re POG. Player of Game.”
- Download the free Optimind app (Apple App Store or Google Play) for a mini test CognICA.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.