Expert: Early detection the key to dementia treatment

Expert: Early detection the key to dementia treatment

Cognitive health is of great value to our personal well-being, allowing us to lead productive lives, participate in new experiences, deepen our relationships, and care for others.

Middle age is associated with typical changes in cognitive abilities. When we experience these normal changes, it is natural to worry that significant cognitive decline may develop in the future.

As a physician who focuses on Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia, I understand the angst regarding cognitive decline is heightened by the misconception that there is little that can be done to slow down or treat cognitive decline.

There is mounting evidence that lifestyle changes can have a positive impact on cognitive health if started early. The key is early detection of significant cognitive changes and developing or maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

The Self-Administered Gerocognitive Examination (SAGE) screening test is a validated, reliable tool that can detect cognitive changes up to 6 months earlier than conventional screening tools used in a traditional health care visit. The SAGE test was developed at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio. It can be completed in your own home and then sent for analysis to your primary care provider. The test takes about 10-15 minutes to complete.

The SAGE test is designed to detect early or mild cognitive changes such as short-term memory and executive function.  Short-term memory is part of the process of learning new information. Executive function is the ability to evaluate a situation, consider all the different perspectives, and respond efficiently. An example of executive function is the ability to manage finances.

If cognitive changes are detected by the SAGE test, your primary care doctor will pursue evaluation specific to cognitive health. Evaluation of cognitive health includes a physical exam and lab studies such as vitamin B12 level.

Your doctor will also closely monitor hypertension and diabetes, review medications that may contribute to cognitive decline, and assess sleep and emotional health. Your doctor will also emphasize and monitor a brain-healthy lifestyle, which includes exercise programs, following the Mediterranean diet, and encouraging increased social activities and cognitive exercises. There is evidence that exercising our brain like our skeletal muscles can physically improve our brain over time.

Unfortunately, with our busy lives and conventional health care, significant cognitive changes can go undetected, often for several years. Critical time is lost that could have been used to protect our most vital and complex organ, the brain.

Measuring your cognitive performance on the SAGE test will help you focus your attention on improving your cognitive health. Talking to your primary care doctor about the SAGE test is a proactive step for your own health and a positive pursuit for the ones you care for.

Now is the perfect time to make an appointment with a primary care physician. Whether you live in Illinois or Wisconsin, it’s easy to find a doctor near you. 

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About the Author

Andy Johnson
Andy Johnson

Andy Johnson, health enews contributor, is a public affairs coordinator with Advocate Aurora Health. He’s been with Advocate Aurora since 2000 serving in various internal and external communication roles. He previously worked as a reporter and editor for the Journal Times and Burlington Standard Press. He enjoys kayaking, biking, and camping but most of all, spending time with his family.