Occasional forgetfulness and delay in remembering a person’s name can be part of the natural process of aging. But when memory problems begin to interfere with normal daily life, it may be a sign of cognitive decline related to Alzheimer’s disease.

Still, it’s hard to gauge if your mental status is worth a trip to the doctor.

Fortunately, there’s a simple diagnostic test that can help you assess your cognitive abilities and risk for disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia, all in the privacy of your own home.

This test is called the Self Administered Gerocognitive Examination (SAGE), and it’s available to download for free online. I’ll give you the link in just a minute. But first, let’s take a look at the science behind SAGE…

A new study finds that this self-administered test can identify subtle signs of dementia as early as six months sooner than commonly used cognition tests you can receive at your doctor’s office.1 While six months might not seem like a lot, experts agree that when it comes to cognitive impairment, the earlier the diagnosis the better.

What is the SAGE Test? 

This test takes ten to fifteen minutes and is not meant to replace any clinical assessment by a doctor, however it can be helpful in identifying cognitive losses earlier, when treatment may be most effective.2

The SAGE test measures orientation (month, date, and year); language (verbal fluency and picture naming); reasoning and simple math skills, visuospatial orientation, executive function, and memory.

Questions may include simple math calculations such as: “You’re purchasing $13.45 worth of groceries. How much change would you receive back from a $20 bill?” Or recall queries, such as writing down the names of 12 different animals.

Patients can retake the test every six months to monitor brain health and then update their healthcare provider who can determine the best next steps for every individual.

There are four different versions of this test, so folks won’t get too familiar with one version.

Research on the test was performed at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, College of Medicine and College of Public Health, and published in the journal Alzheimer’s Research and Therapy.

According to the research team, while the test does not definitively diagnose problems like Alzheimer’s, it allows doctors to get a baseline of their patients’ cognitive functioning, and then repeat testing allows them to follow their patients’ memory and thinking abilities over time.3

“Often primary care physicians may not recognize subtle cognitive deficits during routine office visits,” said Dr. Douglas Scharre, director of the Division of Cognitive Neurology at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center and lead author of the study.

The Biggest Discovery: Early Identification of the Disease 

The researchers followed 665 patients in Ohio State’s Center for Cognitive and Memory Disorders for an eight-year period.

What was the biggest discovery?

It turns out the SAGE test accurately identified people who would eventually develop dementia as early as six months before the most commonly used screening tool.

Among the 164 patients with baseline mild cognitive impairment, 70 patients went on to suffer from dementia.

Dr. Scharre notes that one of the main advantages of this do-it-yourself test is that people can opt to take it in their doctor’s waiting room or at home every six months.

“The earlier you’re detected with cognitive impairment, the more choices you have with these treatments and the better they work,” says Dr. Scharre.

My Takeaway 

I believe that the SAGE test is a valuable tool if used prudently. Dr. Scharre suggests taking the test any time you or your family member notices a change in brain function or personality.

“If that person takes the test every six months and their score drops two or three points over a year and a half, that is a significant difference,” Dr. Scharre says. “Their doctor can use that information to get a jump on identifying the causes of the cognitive loss and to make treatment decisions.”

For more information or to download the SAGE test, visit https://wexnermedical.osu.edu/brain-spine-neuro/memory-disorders/sage.


  1. Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy, 2021; 13 (1) DOI: 10.1186/s13195-021-00930-4 
  2. SAGE Advice: Helping Patients Spot AD Earlier. A Q&A with Douglas Scharre, MD. Practical Neurology. Published April 2014.
  3. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/12/211206220103.htm 

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