Breakthrough test pinpoints severity of dementia risk

People who are concerned that their memory loss is the first sign of dementia could be set to benefit from a breakthrough screening test.

A major conference in Cork next week will hear of the potential development, which could be available to Irish people over the coming months.

Currently, anyone who believes their memory loss may be the first sign of dementia — a condition which affects mental functions such as memory, language, attention, and problem-solving — can undergo a test to determine if they are at risk.

However, the mini-mental state exam — which was developed in the 1970s and is considered a key tool in identifying the condition — cannot clarify whether a person has a small risk of dementia or is in far greater danger of developing dementia.

Prof Willie Molloy and Dr Rónán Ó Caoimh of University College Cork and the nearby St Finbarr’s Hospital have developed a new test which can differentiate between ranges of dementia.

By using their mild cognitive impairment (QMCI) test, they believe patients can be told whether they must prepare for the full rigours of the condition or if it will have practically no affect on their lives.

“People with mild cognitive impairment have variable, subtle changes to their memory, but this can be hard to detect,” said Prof Molloy.

“The advantages of the QMCI test are that it is much shorter, and more accurate, than any current standard examinations used in the field.

“When people start to develop short-term memory loss, it is often an indication of the start of dementia. However, we need to know whether they are developing mild cognitive impairment or dementia, as the treatments are different, and one does not necessarily follow the other.

“Tests in use at the moment are lengthy, at up to 20 minutes, and do not pick up mild problems with great accuracy. This is the key to early detection.”

The QMCI test is based on detailed Canadian research examining almost 1,000 cases between 2004 and 2010.

The North American study — for which Prof Molloy helped to collect information while chair of ageing at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario — specifically looked at the experiences of 335 people with memory issues and the experiences of 630 of their carers or relatives.

The study found that the QMCI test could correctly predict what these patients’ medium-term issues would be.

Prof Molloy and Dr Ó Caoimh are overseeing a similar Irish study based on 150 GP referral patients to cross-reference the findings of the Canadian study.

However, with the initial research due to be presented at All-Ireland Gerontological Nurses’ Association at the Silver Springs Hotel in Cork City on June 7, and an iPhone app test being developed, they are convinced the findings will be a breakthrough in dementia care.

“Taken to its conclusions, GPs will be able to give people an accurate indication of their cognitive ability in less than five minutes,” said Prof Molloy.

“This will mean lot to the person and their family in choosing the next step on their path.”


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