Testing yourself at home for signs and symptoms of dementia

Published: Oct. 28, 2016 at 5:13 PM EDT
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One in three senior citizens will die with Alzheimer's disease or another form of dementia.

It's an astounding statistic that comes from the Alzheimer's Association.

And while fear is often paired with the idea of dementia, there are now ways to help prevent its onset, and even give your brain a checkup in the comfort of your own home.

As you age, you may be wondering if memory lapses you'll experience are “normal.”

Do you or a loved one ever forget what day or month it is? Lose your car keys? Or have trouble remembering appointments?

We'll help you differentiate whether those behaviors are part of the natural aging process, or if these serve as indicators that it may be time to speak with your physician. Plus, experts will explain what you can do now to help reduce your risk.

Dementia: "Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Memory loss is an example. Alzheimer's is the most common type of dementia." This definition comes from the


"But there is vascular dementia, Parkinson's dementia; there are a whole bunch of other less frequent dementias," said Dr. Suhayl Nasr, medical director of psychiatry, Beacon Health System.

Depending on the disease, symptoms begin at various stages in life.

"Then people begin to say, well am I demented if I forget where my keys are…if I go into a room and I don’t know the reason I went into that room…probably that’s not dementia," said Nasr.

The key takeaway is that memory loss does not become part of normal aging.

"Dementia is if we talk about things today and I ask you about them tomorrow, and you can’t even remember that we talked. That tells you there is a problem with short term memory retention of recent information," said Nasr.

Dr. Suhayl Nasr is Beacon Health System's medical director of psychiatry. He specializes in geriatrics.

"The main problem has been people think of it as normal aging that you would forget things, and don’t look at whether there is a problem that is treatable, and more importantly, and I hope this message will come through today, preventable to a very large extent," said Nasr.

He says there are ways to reduce your risk.

"Through exercise, diet, weight management. If you have high blood pressure, take your blood pressure pills; if you’re diabetic, exercise, lose weight and try to keep it under good control," said Nasr.

At the Cass County Council on Aging, Care Services Team Leader, Keryl Conkright, RN, echoes these prevention tips.

"We talk about eating right, exercising, reducing stress; don't smoke, if you do smoke, stop smoking. Not drinking alcohol in excess," said Conkright.

Dr. Nasr says you must do many different things to keep your brain stimulated.

"If you do Sudoku and crossword puzzles, and walk, and learn to crochet and learn how to play the piano and cook, all these things together are stimulating different parts of your brain. And that can help delay the onset of the disease," said Nasr.

While Nurse Conkright discusses these prevention tips in her COA classes, she says there's no guarantee.

"Even when everything is done right, sometimes that disease process grabs ahold of the person, so it's no respecter of persons," said Conkright.

Now it's time to 'head back to class.' You'll want to grab a pen or pencil and a piece of paper. With the AD8 Dementia Screening Interview, you can test yourself or a family member at home for signs of dementia.

You'll have eight questions where you'll rate changes in cognition and memory over the last several years.

For each question, answer either 'yes', if there's been a change; 'no', if there's been no change; or 'not applicable,' if you don't know.

AD8 Dementia Screening Interview:
This screening test was created at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo.

1. Problems with judgment (e.g. problems making decisions, bad financial decisions, problems with thinking).

2. Less interest in hobbies or activities.

3. Repeats the same things over and over (questions, stories or statements)

4. Trouble learning how to use a tool, appliance, or gadget (e.g. , VCR, computer, microwave, remote control).

5. Forgets correct month or year.

6. Trouble handling complicated financial affairs (e.g. balancing checkbook, income taxes, paying bills).

7. Trouble remembering appointments.

8. Daily problems with thinking and or memory.

Now it's time to calculate your score. If you answered 'no,' to all questions, or 'yes,' to only one question this represents normal cognition.

However, if you answered 'yes,' to two or more questions..."you have a very high chance of being diagnosed with dementia on further testing," said Nasr.

Remember, this test is not a diagnosis. Answering 'yes,' to two or more questions is simply an indicator you should speak with your doctor.

Dr. Nasr says both tests have been proven to be excellent screening tools. If your results raise any concerns, he suggests starting with your primary care doctor who can better refer you to a neurologist or psychiatrist for a diagnosis.

If you answered 'not applicable' to any questions on the AD8 Dementia Screening Interview, Dr. Nasr says you should take another screening test called the Mini-Cog.

It was developed after following a group of senior citizens over several years. Dr. Nasr says scoring poorly on this is a good indicator that you are likely to be diagnosed with dementia in the next two years. The test does require drawing, and you'll need someone to administer it to you.

Printing the dementia screening tools:

Attached to this story, you'll find printable versions of both screening tests under the 'Documents' tab on the top, right-hand side of the screen. Or you can follow the links below.

For a printable version of the Mini-Cog, click


For a printable version of the AD8 Dementia Screening Interview, click


To watch part one of 'Dementia? Or normal aging? click