A study published today in Neurology Clinical Practice found that brief cognitive tests, used in primary care settings to evaluate memory and thinking in order to identify whether people are likely to have dementia, may often be wrong. 

Researchers found that different tests had different biases. One had an education bias, in that people with higher education were more likely to be misclassified as not having dementia and those with lower education were more likely to be misclassified as having dementia. Older age, having an ethnic background other than white, living in a care home, and lack of feedback from family/friends about whether the person’s memory was poor also raised the risk of misclassification.

Dr James Pickett, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Society (https://www.alzheimers.org.uk), says: ‘A million people in the UK will be living with dementia by 2021, but despite this there is not one simple accurate test to diagnose this devastating disease. Although cognitive tests are just one part of the complex process that doctors follow to make a dementia diagnosis, they are widely used, so this research suggesting that some of them can be skewed by things like people’s age or ethnicity is concerning.

‘We desperately need to improve the speed and accuracy of dementia diagnosis, so our Game Changer study is investigating how smartphone technology could help do this in future. In the meantime we will continue investing heavily in research on this and working with the Government and NHS to make sure everyone with dementia gets the care and support that diagnosis can unlock.’