Coming to terms with dementia is just a phone call away

Local | Riley Chan 27 Apr 2018

Talk to a researcher for five minutes over the phone and you will know if you suffer from dementia.

This is the latest test developed by Chinese University of Hong Kong. They have adapted an international assessment tool into a local version to screen early cognitive impairment.

Dementia affects one in every 10 senior citizens. The number of people suffering from dementia is estimated to increase from 115,000 in 2016 to around 240,000 in 2036. Early detection is crucial to treatment, but there is no cure.

The Montreal Cognitive Assessment is a brief and valid instrument for screening of dementia with global recognition. The test examines one's cognitive functions, which includes naming, attention and working memory, language, abstraction and orientation.

The test was first localized for Hong Kong in 2007 by a research team at CUHK's Faculty of Medicine. A five-minute version was then developed in 2015, which can be conducted over the telephone. The full test takes about 10 minutes to complete, the researchers said. It has proven to be able to reduce chances of misclassification of patients by almost 75 percent.

Out of 30 marks, a person is considered to have normal cognitive function if the score is 26 or above.

During the test, the administrator may read out a few unrelated words at the beginning of the test and then move on with other tasks. The patient will have to remember those words in correct order throughout the test and be able to name them all at the end.

If the test is conducted face-to-face, the person may also be required to name the switching colors on the screen to test reaction capability.

Researchers said the verbal test is useful for those who cannot draw, for example, stroke and other bed-bound patients.

Both the full version and brief version of the test have been listed by the Hospital Authority as the recommended cognitive screening tool.

Professor Vincent Mok Chung-tong, who heads the faculty's Division of Neurology, said early detection is crucial to retaining patients' cognitive functions.

"The sooner we can detect, the sooner we can intervene before too much damage occurs in the brain," he said.

The university has trained over 4,500 social and healthcare professionals from different hospitals and NGOs since 2016 to administer the test. The team has also prepared a list of over 50 NGOs that provide the test online so that people can book their own appointments.

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