Emory Report
November 24, 2008
Volume 61, Number 13



Emory Report homepage  

November 24
, 2008
Rapid screening test developed to detect early Alzheimer’s

By Jennifer Johnson

With millions of baby boomers entering late adulthood, the number of people with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to drastically rise over the next several decades.

A national research team led by Emory has developed a rapid screening test to detect mild cognitive impairment (MCI) — often the earliest stage of Alzheimer’s disease. The findings are published online in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

The study shows that combining a very brief three-minute cognitive screening test, called the Mini-Cog (MC), with a Functional Activities Questionnaire (FAQ) — administered to a family member or friend — could accurately identify individuals with MCI and undiagnosed dementia.

“Since current medications can only delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease but are not able to reverse its devastating effects, a test like this is key to help individuals detect this devastating disease earlier and maintain a good quality of life for as long as possible,” says Emory neurologist James Lah.

The new screening instrument, referred to as the MC-FAQ, allowed the researchers to correctly classify the 204 participating elderly individuals as cognitively normal, demented, or mildly cognitively impaired with a high degree of accuracy (83 percent). Approximately 30 percent had MCI and 32 percent were very mildly demented.

According to Lah, screening for MCI is notoriously difficult and typically requires 40-60 minutes or more of formal neuropsychological testing to achieve 80 percent accuracy or higher.

“While this may not seem overly impressive, it is quite remarkable for a three-minute investment,” says Lah. “The MC-FAQ is also extremely inexpensive, easy to administer and score, and requires no special training.”

The MC portion of the screening consisted of a simple clock drawing task and three-item recall that typically took the research participant less than five minutes to complete. The FAQ was completed by a reliable informant, generally a spouse, other family member or close friend.