CHARLESTON, WV -- It has been more than 15 years, but the shock and hurt of first realizing that dementia was claiming my smart, practical parents still haunts me.
There was the first time my always mathematically competent father seethed with anger as he was unable to balance his checkbook.
And on another visit, I suggested we make some of Mom's acclaimed holiday roll cookies and she stared at me uncomprehending, unable to recall sharing the recipe or even that it existed.
Eventually, Dad was diagnosed with advanced Alzheimer's and mother with a similar dementia.
Now, within the last two months, two friends who served with us in the Peace Corps, one a West Coast medical doctor and the other a lawyer in the East, have learned they likely have Alzheimer's. We had observed oddities at a reunion and again in emails, so it wasn't a complete shock.
But the truth hits home. Alzheimer's is no longer primarily affecting parents and other "older people." It's our generation.
Nor are the statistics comforting.
Roughly 5.1 million people in the United States have Alzheimer's and an estimated 50 percent of people with it may not know it yet.
So yes, every time I fail in conversation to recall a very common word, it is disconcerting. It is a possible indicator of cognitive difficulties.
Thus it was comforting to take the SAGE test. That's the Self-Administered Gerocognitive Examination developed by Ohio State University's Memory Disorders Research Center.
The four-page test, available at www.sagetest.osu.edu requires only pen and paper and a few minutes.
It could be the key to easing worries or prompting a medical consultation for many who fret about themselves or family members, as it doesn't require finding and trying to get an appointment for an evaluation. Other current diagnostic tests require a professional to evaluate appearance, orientation, attention span, language, memory, judgment and the like.
Yet two studies suggest the SAGE test is both as reliable as those more time-consuming and potentially expensive exams. And it may indicate problems even earlier.
The studies, involving a total of 1,300 people over 50, conducted by the OSU research center, were published in an Alzheimer's journal in 2010 and in the Winter 2014 issue of "The Journal of Neuropsychiatry & Clinical Neurosciences"
"The questions are more difficult than other similar questionnaires, such as the Mini-Mental State Examination test, in order to pick up those with very mild impairments," the research center's website reports.