Testing for Dementia in 10 Minutes

I knew that headline would get your attention.

Many people I know who are over 50 are concerned about getting some form of dementia. Either it runs in their family or they have watched others suffer. In either case, it’s not a pretty picture. In fact, it’s downright horrifying.

I often tell myself that since I keep my mind so busy I don’t really have to worry about it. We have all read reports, and I have even written posts, about electronic mind games that keep your brain sharp. While I want desperately to believe an active mind is preventative of dementia, it is highly likely that it doesn’t mean a thing.

We had a client who was celebrated as one of the most feared entertainment trial lawyers in the country because of his wins. We actually worked for him for over a decade and watched him protect the financial rights of The Beatles, Billy Joel, Elton John, Eddie Murphy, and more. He had a mind that was sharper and more calculating than most. Other lawyers used to line up to work with him.

His 50th birthday celebration was in Bobby DeNiro’s restaurant, the TriBeCa Grill, which was brand new at the time. The party was star-studded and filled with so much energy that I actually pinched myself to believe I was part of his crowd.

Sometime after that, he started doing strange things, some of them very eccentric, but we all thought that was just his wacky, genius personality. Then he displayed big emotional swings that were unexplainable. After that, he couldn’t remember simple words and his whole life spiraled downhill.

I could go on forever about this guy because if there was ever a mind that you would think would be the last to get dementia, it was his. We watched him descend from one of the greatest lives anyone could ever want to one of the most feared.

By the time he was 60, he had spent a decade being taken care of by a nurse in his downtown loft right near our Flatiron office. I often found myself standing outside his building trying to find solace. For years I wouldn’t go inside to visit him because the deterioration was too much to bear.

Finally, his adult daughters (their devotion to him should be made into a book or a movie) convinced me to see him one last time. Of course Eliot went with me, but it was still a very painful yet a profound experience. Shame on me for not going more.

The reason I am telling you all this is because there is great hope for many of us in that dementia may now be quickly diagnosed in routine visits to your doctor. The promise from the medical world is that they are working on ways to slow it down so we can live full, active lives for decades after early detection.

The iPad (or other tablets like it) is going to play a major role in this development. What used to take years to predict will now take 10 minutes for your physician.

One company, Cantab, is developing a new iPad app from Cambridge Cognition that will become available within a year. The technology, based on testing developed at the University of Cambridge, is designed to be easy for doctors and patients to use together.

Watch the video for a better explanation. Trust me, there are hundreds of applications that are being developed along these lines. I have read about them over the years but when I recently learned about this one, I decided to share.

6 thoughts on “Testing for Dementia in 10 Minutes

  1. HI, Lois, I noticed some dementia in my best friend and encouraged her to get tested. I thought an early diagnosis would mean she could get some substantial help. In fact, she was diagnosed with Altzheimers. She’s 66 years old. There’s actually very little that they can do for her. She takes a medicine that is supposed to help with clarity. Neither of us are impressed with the results. She does crossword puzzles and word games-poorly, but they are supposed to keep the mind active. The depression and anxiety this diagnosis brings are daunting, adding insult to injury. If I’d known how little there was to help her I never would have suggested testing. I recognized the symptoms because my grandmother and an aunt were victims. Imagine being 66 years young and knowing that you are already in a spiraling decline. It’s devastating.
    If anyone knows of things being done to actually slow the progress of this disease, please let me know.

    • You are such a good friend. You are right. Sometimes, maybe the majority of the time, nothing can be done. Let’s hope help is on its way. This is torturous.

      • Hi Terri, The Alzheimer’s drugs do slow the progress, but you don’t see improvement so they don’t seem all that encouraging. Still, I would recommend your friend do them, and believe that early diagnosis is a very positive thing. The depression should be treated separately by a doctor. It is a serious side-effect. Also, there are terrific cognitive-behavioral practices that can keep a person more connected. There are books and therapists and centers that help with this. Consult a local chapter of The Alzherimer’s Association. It is decentralized, not national (which is weird, I know). They will be up on the latest medicines, books, and practices. One book I found very helpful was “The Best Friends Approach to Alzheimer’s Care” (http://www.amazon.com/Best-Friends-Approach-Alzheimers-Care/dp/1878812351) by Virginia Bell and David Troxel. It is truly excellent, and, these days, just about everyone should read it. Anyone can learn to become an effective and unafraid friend and companion to the people going through this frightening progression. They should not be alone. Being afraid is natural. “Dementia” means “away from the mind” and that is bewildering, especially when we don’t know how to behave around them. This book cures that problem.

        Lois, thanks for this post. Raising awareness and early diagnosis help people who have dementia and their lonely caregivers and loved ones more than you could know. I was one of those hero daughters for my mother for ten years. It was one of the saddest periods of my life. But it was also one of the richest. The love we shared was undiminished by her failing mental and (eventually) physical faculties. In fact, I’d say it was amplified 1000 times.

  2. I am very interested in the subject that you wrote about for today’s blog. I spent the day yesterday with my 87 year old uncle who appears to be showing the early signs of dementia. He is getting very frustrated when he can’t remember things from his past and when he knows that he is repeating telling me the same things during the course of our conversation. Sometimes I stop him and tell him that he already told me something and other times I just let him talk until he tells me the same thing for the 3rd time. Dementia and Alzheimer’s are horrible diseases that rob us of our elderly parents’ and relatives’ life and family tree/history knowledge. The new wave of technology being developed to diagnose the onset of dementia and to slow it down is very encouraging.

    • You are stuck like the rest of us. Maybe it is our job not to humiliate the person. There is no answer for this. Your visits are so important. Then you need time to recover. I know, I know.

  3. Thanks, lois. all this has already been done. Even her docs in Chicago and Utah agree the drugs don’t really do much, but she’s on them if she takes themthat’s another question. Thanks for your advice. T

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