Are you worried about memory loss? By using a free, simple mild cognitive impairment test, you can find out if that forgetfulness is normal for your age or a sign of something more serious.
But you have to choose the right test, and that’s not easy to do. If you search for a free mild cognitive impairment test online, you’ll find a baffling buffet of choices. Be careful. Most of these tests are worthless, and some are outright scams. Don’t fall for that.
To get an accurate result, you want a mild cognitive impairment test that was created by neurologists and has been scientifically validated.
In the the video below, I show you how to choose the right test, how to take it, and what to do with the results.
(P.S. — Don’t worry about trying to take notes as you watch this video. All the information you need is available in my “MCI memory test cheat sheet” which is available at the bottom of this page.)
If you’re concerned that you mind might be slipping, and you’re thinking about taking a memory test, there’s only one way you can really go wrong.
And that would be to ignore the problem. Please don’t make that mistake.
As I mention in the video, most people who take a memory screen end up scoring cognitively normal for their age. Dr. Douglas Scharre, the creator of the SAGE memory test, calls them the “worried well.” They are so afraid there’s something wrong with their mind, and it turns out they’re fine. That can be a huge relief.
And even if the news isn’t what you hoped, you’re still better off knowing. Alzheimer’s is what people fear, but there are many other possible causes of memory loss, and most are treatable. If there’s a problem, and it’s identified and treated, your memory may improve.
And here’s the single most important thing to understand. If it turns out you have a degree of cognitive decline that suggests dementia or puts you at a higher risk for dementia, there are potential treatments available to you. But they need to be given as early in the process as possible. The longer you wait, the less effective these treatments become.
Meanwhile, here are answers to some common questions that people have about finding and taking a memory test on their own.
Q. There are so many free memory tests available online. How do I know which one to choose.
A. There are a few things to look for. You can have confidence in the test if it was developed by neurologists, ideally ones affiliated with a major medical center or research institution. Also, check the web site of the test to see if there’s credible scientific research behind it.
There are several tests that meet that criteria, but among the good choices, I strongly recommend the Self-Administered Gerocognitive Exam, known as the SAGE test for short.
Q. Why the SAGE test?
A. It’s a free, simple pencil-and-paper test that’s easy to get and easy to use. You can do it at home, in very little time. It’s been around for years, and has been downloaded well over a million times. Numerous studies have established that its results are highly accurate.
Q. That sounds great. How do I get the SAGE test?
A. The test was created by experts at the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University. You can download it by going here: https://wexnermedical.osu.edu/brain-spine-neuro/memory-disorders/sage
Once you get there, just look for the button that says “I agree and download test” and click on that.
Q. How do I know which of the SAGE tests is right for me?
A. When you go to the site and try to download, you will see the test is available in a number of language. Whatever language you choose, you will see there are four versions of the test. Don’t let that confuse you. The versions of the test are different, but each is designed to test the same things.
The reasons there are multiple versions of the test is to avoid a situation where a person takes the same test more than once and scores higher the second time simply because of the practice effect. Also, the test is often given in group settings and having more than one version reduces the chances that one person will copy the answers from the person sitting next to them.
The point is, the tests are similar and it doesn’t matter which one you choose. Pick one randomly and you’ll be fine.
Q. Is there anything I should do to prepare for the test?
A. This isn’t a test you can study for in advance, so don’t worry about that. Just try to take it at a time and in a setting that will be conducive to your ability to focus and do your best. Ideally, that would be someplace comfortable, quiet and without loud noises or distractions. Turn your phone off, and try to avoid interruptions.
Q. What else do I need to know about taking the test?
A. Well, there are a few basic rules. Do it in pencil, not pen. Don’t anyone else assist you, and don’t use any devices like a clock, calendar or a computer search or other resources materials to help you with the answers.
Q. How much time do I have to take the test?
A. It’s not a timed test. The experts at OSU who developed the SAGE say it typically takes 10 or 15 minutes, but you’re allowed to take as much time as you need, so don’t rush through it. And please keep in mind, the test isn’t designed to be easy. If you find some of the questions difficult, don’t become frustrated by that. Just do the best you can.
Q. Once I’m done with the test, how do I score it?
A. The test isn’t really intended for you to score yourself. What you really should do is take it to your primary care doctor, and have her or him score it.
People are sometimes surprised and disappointed they can’t score the test themselves and get the results right away. But as I say in the video, this isn’t like a home pregnancy test. Pregnancy is clear-cut. You are either pregnant, or you’re not. Cognitive impairment is a much more complex thing — a matter of degree. So it’s not as simple as a number. The results take some interpretation. That’s why your doctor is in a better position to make sure the test is scored accurately and to help you understand what the results mean.
That being said, you can score the test if you want to. The SAGE site includes instruction for doctors on how to score the test, and you can read those instructions and score yourself if you want to. It’s just not recommended.
As Dr. Douglas Scharre, one of the creators of the test told me: “”The instruction are there to grade it, but you may be grading it incorrectly if your mind isn’t working so well. We don’t mind if you score it, but it’s best to take it to a doctor so they can put it in the context of your medical history.”
Q. What will the test score tell me?
A. The SAGE doesn’t test just memory. It’s specifically designed to measure all aspects of cognition, including language, orientation and executive function.
The maximum score you can get on the SAGE is 22 points.
If you score between 17 and 22, that’s a pretty good indication that you are cognitively normal for your age. For what it’s worth, the majority of people who take the SAGE test score cognitively normal, much to their relief. Dr. Scharre says one of the greatest services that the SAGE provides is to “relieve the ‘worried well.’”
A score of 15 or 16 points can indicate a minor memory impairment. A score of 14 or below would suggest there may be a more serious memory problem.
Q. So if I score below 17, does that mean I have dementia?
A. No, please don’t jump to that conclusion. A test like SAGE is merely an indicator that there might be a problem, and further evaluation may be called for. In some cases, the doctor might decide it’s something to keep an eye on, and encourage you take the test again in six months and see if there’s any change. In other cases, the doctor may refer you for further testing right away.
Among other things, it’s important to understand that there are many potential causes of memory loss that don’t involve dementia and are treatable. That would include such conditions as depression, a sleep disorder, a vitamin deficiency or a thyroid problem. Over-medication also can contribute to cognitive loss, so your doctor may want to review the medications you’re on as well.
Q. And what if I score a 17 or above? Does that mean I have nothing to worry about?
A. It’s certainly a good sign, and you can take satisfaction in that. You may be experiencing little memory slips and miscues at times, but scoring in the cognitively normal range on the SAGE is a welcome indication that they’re just a normal part of aging. The key is to stay diligent for any changes that may signal a degree of cognitive decline that becomes concerning. A good way to protect against that is to continue to take the SAGE exam on an annual basis and show it to your doctor. The first time you take it, you are establishing a cognitive baseline for yourself, so it will be easier to detect changes in the future.
You can also use the results as encouragement to pursue healthy habits that help keep your mind sharp going forward. That includes getting regular physical activity, managing your blood pressure, eating a healthy, balanced diet and keeping yourself mentally stimulated and socially engaged.
Q. What if I check out the SAGE test and don’t feel it’s the right one for me? Are there other online tests I should consider?
A. While I recommend the SAGE test without reservation, it’s certainly not the only good choice out there. Other memory tests you might want to consider include:
MindCrowd — From the University of Arizona, the Translational Genomics Research Institute and the Alzheimer’s Prevention Initiative.
Cogniciti Online Brain Health Assessment — A memory test provided by Baycrest, Canada’s largest geriatric healthcare institute.
MemTrax — A memory test designed by Dr. J. Wesson Ashford, a Stanford University psychiatrist and neuroscientist.
You can learn more about these tests by downloading my “MCI Memory Test Cheat Sheet,” which is available below.
Q. What if I don’t feel comfortable or confident going on line and trying to get a memory test I have to take on my own at home? Is there somewhere I can go to get a memory test, and what would that cost?
A. Memory testing for older adults is becoming more common and readily available all the time. The changes are pretty good these days that it’s being offered in a community setting near you.
The easy way to find out is to go to the website of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, which operates the National Memory Screening Program. You can find information about that program by clicking here.
There are many advantages to taking a memory test in a community setting through this nationwide program. They include:
- The test is usually offered for free.
- The test is given by a qualified healthcare professional, such as a social worker, nurse, physician’s assistant or psychologist. That professional can give you the results right on the spot, as soon as you’re done taking the test, and explain to you what the results mean and what you should do next.
- Although the testing site will usually some community facility like a church, senior center or health facility, the test is given face-to-face in a private space that respects your confidentiality.
The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America offers a site locator you can use to find a screening site near you. You can go to the “Find a Site” tool by clicking here.
Get my memory test cheat sheet here.