More than 50% of people over 60 are concerned about memory loss. Some age-related memory loss is inevitable, but memory loss can also be a symptom of more serious conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease.
It is a truism of marketing that fear ‘sells.’ Given the devastating effects of dementias, there is a ready market for online memory tests and training programs, which has been targeted by many companies. But do these tests and programs work? Are people pinning their hopes on unproven products that might even falsely reassure them and delay a visit to their physician?
An appropriate test must correctly identify all people who have symptoms that might be of concern and encourage them to visit their physicians, while reassuring the majority of people taking the test who have concerns, but actually have no unusual symptoms.
How do you know that a test does exactly this? There is only one way – you must perform clinical trials.
An example of one such clinically-validated test was just released by Cogniciti Inc. It has proven to be very popular. In the first week there were 37 thousand site visits, by 27 thousand unique visitors, the majority in their 50’s-70’s, which is the age-range for which the test was clinically tested. Importantly, 15 thousand people completed the full 20-minute assessment, and many returned to use the other online resources.
While touting the scientific basis of the test, Cogniciti is quick to describe it as a ‘thermometer’ for memory health. Just as a thermometer can detect fever, encouraging someone to seek medical attention, so Cogniciti’s test is an early-warning indicator, not a diagnostic tool.
“According to the test’s creators, the majority of people will score in the normal, healthy range for their age – which will help reassure the “worried well”. For the small percentage (approximately 2 - 3%) that scores below average for their age and education, those adults will be encouraged to re-test after a week. If their score again falls below the normal threshold for their age, they will be provided with a personalized report that will help them start the conversation about their brain health with a doctor.” – Initial news release
When users begin the test they are offered the opportunity to be automatically reminded to take the test again after a suitable period, such as a year. Regular testing with a standardized and validated test will prove invaluable to track any worrisome declines in memory performance over years, sounding an alarm much earlier than otherwise might be the case.
Disclaimer: MaRS Discovery District, an organization with which I work, holds a minority equity position in Cogniciti.