News Article Details

Sue Scheible: A GOOD AGE: Testing memory and 'brain health'

The Patriot Ledger - 2/5/2019

Feb. 05--DUXBURY -- It's the kind of test that can make you wary but is hard to resist.

South Shore senior centers have been offering people the chance to take a free online assessment of working memory and brain function that requires a laptop, takes about 25 minutes and can be also done on your own from home.

"I thought it was interesting and relatively easy, though I found the name recognition with faces hard," said Kay Drake, who is 76 and serves on the Duxbury Council on Aging. Drake has noticed changes in her memory -- she sometimes walks into a room and forgets what she came there for-- but she doesn't worry about it and jokes that if she lived in a two-story house, she'd be slim from all the back-and-forth trips. Drake took the test, thinks memory testing is a good idea and found others in Duxbury also enjoyed it. "I think we like proving to ourselves that we are OK," she said.

The test, developed in Canada, is being presented by a brain health research group called Cogniciti. I completed the test two weeks ago in Duxbury when Angela Sinnott, program director, offered two sessions at the senior center. I had thought I would just go and check it out for a story, was drawn into taking it and had an evaluation session afterward with Nora Downey of the Cogniciti team.

I didn't do as well as I would have liked -- a score of 79 -- but was told I was "well above average and could feel good about that" and that I did better than 79 percent of people my age (75) had done in research studies. The best part was understanding what abilities the test looks at, why they are relevant to aging, and knowing I could take it on my own every six months or every year to catch any significant changes early on. If I find anything concerning, Downey said, I could request a professional evaluation through my physician.

The assessment consists of four tasks that check your working memory, your ability to pay attention or focus and what is called executive brain function -- how well you organize new information to make decisions. Those are some of the skills that start to change if people have Alzheimer's or dementia, Downey said.

Here are the four parts: a face-name association test where you must remember which name goes with which face, with 12 pairings; a spatial working memory test, in which you must find two each of hidden shapes (a plus, a circle, a square) in an array without needing to go back to search in places already searched; an interference task that shows how well you can control attention and speed in coming up with answers when the information is incongruent; a number-letter alternation task that involves sequencing numbers and letters as fast as possible in ascending order.

People have the hardest time with the face/name recognition test.

The test is scored for people 40 to 79 and can let you know if you should see a doctor for further assessment. There is also a followup smart health tracker quiz that suggests lifestyle factors to boost brain health.

Bert White of Duxbury, in his early 70s, gave rave reviews. "It is the first test that really focused on brain health, based on scientific samples, was not superficial and was sophisticated with the use of a laptop and gaming techniques," White said. "It was very challenging and showed you where in the band of people your age you fit."

Carol McHugh, 75, of Kingston, jumped at the chance "of anything to challenge you to use your brain. We all know people in their late 90s who are very alert and I'm sure they experienced things like we do in their 70s." Instead of being frightening, it also reassured her that what she experiences is normal.

That afternoon, Cogniciti took the testing to Pembroke Senior Center.

Susan Shea, director of the center, said she initially had some concerns about how people who scored low would respond. After speaking with the Cogniciti staff, she was reassured. And Patricia Henderson, 85, who scored low on the test, was not alarmed and found it useful. She was disappointed with a low score but reassured she was still within the normal range.

HAPPY 100TH TO BLUE WHITNEY -- Congratulations to Blue Whitney, a former TWA stewardess who still enjoys a weekly game of bridge, on turning 100 on Super Bowl Sunday over at 1000 Southern Artery.

"I tell everyone the Patriots are celebrating my birthday," she said Sunday with a chuckle. Her granddaughter, Amber Michelle Maher, who grew up in Quincy and graduated from Quincy High School in the mid-1990s, flew in from California to be with Blue and Blue's daughter, Pamela Maher. I wrote about Blue in 2014, when she turned 95, and was impressed by her life story and how much she had survived. She didn't want a 100th birthday party (adamant!) but her friends over at the Kennedy Center and Quincy Department of Elder Services congratulated her, and over at 1000 Southern Artery, a Super Bowl party on Friday included a Happy Birthday song and floral bouquet for Blue. Part of her secret for longevity is, she said, including younger people in her circle of friends. She worked until age 88. All good wishes go out to Blue, gracious, stylish and much admired.

Reach Sue Scheible at sscheible@patriotledger.com, 617-786-7044, or The Patriot Ledger, P.O. Box 699159, Quincy 02269-9159. Read her Good Age blog on our website. Follow her on Twitter @ sues_ledger.

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(c)2019 The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass.

Visit The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass. at www.patriotledger.com

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