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Psychiatry Newsletter - A Site for the Memory-Perplexed

Hopkins Brain Wise Summer 2010

A Site for the Memory-Perplexed

By: Marjorie Centofanti Melissa Hendricks
Date: July 10, 2010


“We wanted to develop something that can be done at home, anonymously, that’s easy to use and without cost,” says neuropsychologist Jason Brandt of his new effort to give perhaps thousands of people worried about dementia a rough idea of risk.

What he devised had to be valid. It had to be sensitive enough not to mislead those at increased likelihood of dementia into thinking the status quo is fine when it isn’t.

So about a year ago, Brandt launched the Memory Survey, a free, online dementia risk assessment (www.alzcast.org/memorysurvey). Anyone can log onto the site, answer a series of questions about known dementia risk factors—traumatic brain injury, mood disorder, family history of dementia and the like—and take a short memory test.

Another web page lets a second party, such as a son concerned about his elderly father, take the survey.

The site then provides feedback. “We want to educate the public about dementia risk factors, to tailor what we tell each person, and to encourage people at high risk to see a competent clinician for a formal evaluation,” says Brandt.

“If you take the survey, it becomes clear it’s no substitute for seeing a specialist,” he adds. Brandt, however, hopes the tool will identify more people in earlier stages of dementia and lead them to medical evaluation. “Early diagnosis is important,” he says, “because existing therapies for Alzheimer’s disease appear to work best when started early.”

Right now, the memory test part of the survey is still being validated. Brandt has just finished evaluating the first 500 who’ve taken it. So far, what seems to predict poor memory performance are advanced age, hypertension, significant memory complaints and being male. 

Now he’s comparing results on the memory test and survey questions with “gold standard,” in-person dementia evaluations by physician specialists.

Until that’s complete, visitors to the site get “the most responsible information available,” says Brandt, as an algorithm feeds back one of 24 tailored responses to the health history questions.  

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