The 15-minute test for dementia: too good to be true?

Today on Behind the Headlines, we'll be looking into the widespread news that there's a "15-minute test for dementia". We'll publish our analysis later this afternoon, but it's interesting to note that already the Telegraph (original story here: ) has already led the charge in downplaying the news.

Commentator Graeme Archer has interestingly gone through some of the implications of the test in his Telegraph blog (here: ).

You can try the test here ( ), but before you do, you might want to think of what the consequences might be if the test suggests you've got a cognitive impairment.

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  • And here's our analysis:

  • It's not unlike the recent discussions around consumer genomics testing (23andme were given a cease-and-desist letter from FDA - best analysis here

    What happens if you uncover any incurable degenerative disease that you wouldn't otherwise know about well in advance. Wilson's Criteria for screening springs to mind

  • This also brings to mind the debate about whether medical devices, such as blood pressure monitors and SPO2 monitors, should be sold in chemists. The results from these devices can cause worry and concern if the results are not good. There is also the added problem that the devices are not being used by trained health professionals and so it could be user error that led to the result being of concern, and a lot of people won't have the medical knowledge to contextualise the result in terms of their overall health.

    Recently I personally saw an example of this first hand where a mum-to-be in the antenatal classes I attended had bought a Doppler machine so she could listen to her baby's heartbeat. She had spent most of the afternoon unsuccessfully trying to find the heartbeat. By the time she got to the class she was in a terrible state. The midwives taking the class managed to find the heartbeat quite quickly - as they know what they were doing - and put her mind at ease.

    In a world where technology is advancing quickly and people want to use the technology to take more control of their own health, it seems that more and more examples of this will arise. Medical professionals have been noticing an increase in patients coming to them because of information they have read in newspapers or online. With all these tests publicly available but without the medical support there to interpret the results and provide context for the results it is likely that medical professionals will find they spend even more time dealing with self-diagnoses.

  • Here is a link to a paper about how the media has affected healthcare from the perspective of nurses:

    van Bekkum JE, Hilton S. Primary care nurses' experiences of how the mass media influence frontline healthcare in the UK. BMC Family Practice 2013;14:178

  • Thanks, that's an interesting paper. The genie is out of the bottle in terms of the information, which is why it's about giving people the right tools to interpret it. That's why the mission of Sense About Science and Behind the Headlines is so important

  • @Lindstig - my wife very nearly bought a Doppler until I persuaded her that this was probably what would happen. As it was even the GP couldn't find the heartbeat but everything was fine once seen by the midwife thankfully"

  • It is perfectly obvious that the test is completely useless.

    I was disappointed that the NHS Choices post failed to calculate the consequences of the numbers that are given. The numbers imply that, if you test positive the chances that you actually have MCI is only 15%. In other words 85% of those who test positive are getting a false alarm. That's stated clearly in the Telegraph blog to which you refer, but not in the NHS Choices post (apart from in the two comments which I left on it).

    I find it hard to imagine how a test that fails 85% of the time ever got published. and even harder to imagine why NHS Choices failed to point it out.

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