How a simple card game can help predict if you’ll develop dementia | The Sun

A SIMPLE test could be used to spot dementia nearly a decade before doctors notice symptoms.

People who get Alzheimer’s disease start flunking memory and thinking tests nearly a decade before a diagnosis, researcher has found.

Cambridge University experts say simple tests which test basic memory could be used to screen people and start treatment earlier.

Both tests rely on subtle differences that could easily be missed.


The well known game involves looking at cards on a computer screen.

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After being given a few seconds to look at the cards they are turned face down and the person must identify as many pairs as possible in the fewest goes.

On average, people made about two mistakes.

People at high risk of Alzheimer’s made about three errors, the researchers found.

Remembering digits

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In this game participants are shown a two-digit number, which vanishes after a few seconds.

The person must remember it and each time the number becomes one digit longer.

On average, people remembered seven.

The highest score for those who developed Alzheimer's was six.

Lead author Dr Nol Swaddiwudhipong said: “When we looked back at patients’ histories, it became clear that they were showing some cognitive impairment several years before their symptoms became obvious enough to prompt a diagnosis. 

“The impairments were often subtle, but across a number of aspects of cognition.

“This is a step towards us being able to screen people who are at greatest risk.”

The main signs of dementia you need to know

The symptoms of dementia progress slowly over several years. Often, the symptoms are confused with other conditions and may initially be put down to old age.

  • Memory: Regularly forgetting recent events, names and faces.
  • Repetition: Becoming increasingly repetitive.
  • Misplacing things: Regularly misplacing items or putting them in odd places.
  • Confusion: Not sure of the date or time of day.
  • Disorientation: People might be unsure of their whereabouts or get lost, particularly in unfamiliar places.
  • Language: Problems finding the right words.
  • Mood and behaviour: Some people become low in mood, anxious or irritable

The study, published in the journal Alzheimer's & Dementia, used data from half a million Brits aged 40 to 69.

Scientists looked at health data and scores on tests of reaction time, memory, problem solving and grip strength.

People with below average results were more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease or frontotemporal dementia in the next nine years.

Brain diseases, including Parkinson’s, were also more common in people with worse overall health or who had recently had a fall.

Almost one million Brits have dementia and it is the leading cause of death in the UK.

Patients do not usually get diagnosed until their symptoms affect daily life.

There is no treatment but experts hope drug trials will be more successful if the condition can be caught earlier.

Senior author on the study, Dr Tim Rittman, added: “People should not be unduly worried if, for example, they are not good at recalling numbers.

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“Even some healthy individuals will naturally score better or worse than their peers.

“We would encourage anyone who has any concerns or notices that their memory is getting worse to speak to their GP.”

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