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Pen And Paper Test Can Detect Alzheimer's Symptoms Early, Experts Say

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Some 5 million Americans are battling Alzheimer's disease, and those numbers are expected to triple in the coming years.

But of course, doctors have a better chance of treating Alzheimer's if it is caught early, and as CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez reported, there is now a simple at-home test to help spot telltale problems early.

Though she spends much of her time traveling the world, Emily Schornstein still finds time to help with medical research. The retired nurse volunteers for studies involving Alzheimer's disease, which can sometimes call for some very invasive procedures.

"I've gotten MRIs and CAT scans, and even an LP - lumbar puncture," Schornstein said.

But Schornstein recently tested a new approach that simply involves a pen, paper and a few minutes of her time. It's called the SAGE test – or the Self-Administered Gerocognitive Exam – and a new study shows it can reveal volumes about a patient's mind.

"What we found was that this SAGE, self-administered test correlated very well with the very detailed cognitive testing," said Dr. Douglas Scharre of Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University.

Researchers at Wexner developed the test, which asks those who take it to state the date, name everyday objects, and make simple mathematical calculations.

More than 1,000 patients took the test over five years, and nearly 30 percent showed early signs of cognitive problems they did not know they had.

By repeating the test from time to time, doctors now have a cheap and easy way to monitor their patients and detect even slight changes in their cognitive ability.

"If we see this change, we can catch it really early, and we can start treatments much earlier than we did without a test," Scharre said.

And early detection and treatment is crucial. Studies show most Alzheimer's patients wait three to four years before being treated.

But Schornstein knows better.

"It's a way to maybe help me, or help somebody else in the future," Schornstein said.

Much like a mammogram only screens for breast cancer, the SAGE test does not actually diagnose Alzheimer's. It spots thinking and memory problems early so that more definitive tests can be done to tell if it is really Alzheimer's.

A link to the four printable versions of the pen and paper SAGE test can be found here.

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