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Tests ID People at Risk of Alzheimer’s and Similar Illness With PM-Dementia-Tests,

August 30, 1994

Tests ID People at Risk of Alzheimer’s and Similar Illness With PM-Dementia-Tests, PM-Dementia-Findings

NEW YORK (AP) _ Testing memory and other mental abilities can help elderly people learn if they have a high risk of getting Alzheimer’s or a similar disease within a few years, a study says.

The tests, given to outwardly healthy people, identified one group with an 85 percent rate of developing intellect-robbing dementia within four years. Another group developed dementia at only a 5 percent rate over that time.

That means the tests can distinguish between those who should get a more detailed evaluation and make plans for their future care, and those who can be reassured they have little short-term risk, said the study’s lead author, Dr. David Masur.

″If you score well on these tests, we can confidently say that over the next four years you probably won’t be getting dementia,″ he said.

Dementia basically is a significant decline in intellectual abilities such as memory and reasoning. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common kind of dementia. Most dementia is not curable.

Masur is an associate clinical professor of neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the Montefiore Medical Center in New York. He and colleagues present the study in the August issue of the journal Neurology.

While other scientists are doing similar work, Masur’s result ″is probably the best in terms of predictive value so far,″ said Dr. Leonard Berg, chairman of the Alzheimer’s Association Medical and Scientific Advisory Board.

″It’s good work and it’s important work,″ said Berg, a neurologist who directs the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Masur and Berg called the tests useful for people in their 70s and 80s who are generally healthy and free of multiple medications that could impair their performance on the tests.

The tests are given by neuropsychologists and should not be taken at home, Masur said. He said people who want to take the tests should discuss a referral to a neuropsychologist with their physician.

The study involved 317 healthy people with an average age of 79 who initially showed no sign of dementia. Researchers gave them a battery of psychological tests and then followed them for four years. Then they went back and identified four tests that best predicted dementia.

The two best-performing tests focused on memory for words and objects. Another called for rapidly naming as many items as possible from a category, such as vegetables. The fourth involved rapidly finding and copying a series of symbols.

In an interview, Masur noted that the tests did better at identifying people who would remain free of dementia than pointing out those who would develop it.

He noted that 202 of the 253 participants who avoided dementia had high test scores predicting that outcome, while of the 64 people who became demented only 11 had shown a high risk by getting low test scores.

Of the 212 people with high test scores, 202 remained free of dementia, for a 95 percent predictive accuracy, whereas 11 of the 13 with poor test scores developed the condition, for an accuracy of 85 percent. The other 92 participants scored in a gray zone that did not allow a firm prediction of getting or avoiding dementia.

Early warning of dementia allows a person to plan for future care, get financial matters in order and prepare relatives for what may come, Masur said.

A study published earlier this month found that caring for an Alzheimer’s patient cost an average of $213,732 over the patient’s remaining life, mainly for round-the-clock care.

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