Clearwater doctor using new artificial intelligence-powered test to help spot early signs of dementia

Brain tests for memory are stepping into the 21st century through an artificial intelligence-powered test to spot early signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. A Clearwater doctor is among the few in the country using the tech for her patients.

Created by Cognetivity Neurosciences, the AI-powered test is designed to measure your ability to think, memory, and cognitive function, giving you a score of healthy, at-risk or impaired. Dr. Kimberley Evans, a primary care physician who runs Beyond Geriatrics in Clearwater, said the test is the most sensitive test she’s seen for her patients. 

"It's a huge difference. The traditional pen and paper test, which I can use, and I have used for years. It provides information for just one point in time. You really can't repeat the test and expect to use that tool time after time to evaluate someone's cognitive function," said Dr. Evans, who added that some of her patients perform well on the usual pen and paper test but show up as at risk on the CognICA test. "The biggest difference is being able to monitor and to do checkups on a regular basis."

Dr. Evans’ patients Bill and Kim Lawton of Port Charlotte said they want to stay as sharp as they can for as long as they can. 

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"We're retired. So that's nice. We live on a canal, so we get out on our kayaks, and we do yoga at least three times a week," said Kim Lawton.

Both husband and wife are 67 years old, and they like to stay busy, so when Bill’s yearly physical came around earlier this year, the couple wanted Dr. Evans to check his memory.

"She said she had this new test out, and I thought you know I think that makes a little sense because I don’t remember things as I used to," said Bill Lawton who took the test in June. "There's a written and an oral part that is not repeated, she said. The rest is similar to playing a video game. I guess you see these pictures flash in front of you, and you have to go right, left, right, left. Do you see an animal? Do you not see an animal?"

Kim said she took the test too, though she was more reluctant at first.

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"I was all in for him to take it. He goes, ‘Oh, we're going to we're scheduled for cognitive testing. I'm like, What? I wanted you to have it. I don't want to have it,’" said Kim Lawton. "I don't test well. I got all nerve-wracked, all worried about it. I worried about it for a whole week. I said, ‘I'm going to fail. I was like, Oh, no, I can't do this.’ But it was fine. It worked out really well."

Kim and Bill both scored healthy on the test, so they said it gives them a baseline.

"Initially it's going to give me a comfort in that I know where I'm at, and it'll give me motivation to do things that will help with memory loss," he said.

Dr. Evans said she thinks the technology can help change her patients’ mindsets about their cognitive health and what to do about it.

"I think we all take it for granted. And you think, oh, I'll be fine until I reach my eighties. And by then the cat's out of the bag," said Dr. Evans, who said lifestyle interventions can make a big difference. "I've used the technology to evaluate my really healthy 80-year-olds. And I have patients that are 87 and have scored a healthy score on the cognitive function using this technology. So, you know, start early and keep on going."