On the Internet

consider the source and its motivations when evaluating the information.

Still other memory testing websites are sponsored by medical care companies. Along with blood sugar self-testing in diabetes, pregnancy testing kits, and low-cost blood pressure monitors, their approach fits within the general framework of home-based medical testing. These sites typically charge a user fee for accessing an online screening test or responding to an interactive questionnaire. The user is provided with feedback on test performance or risk for having a memory disorder. Some of these sites offer subscription services, which enable you to retest yourself over a period of time. But the fact is that the tests used by these sites have not been scientifically validated.

Claims that a problem as complex as memory dysfunction can be diagnosed by "remote control" are irresponsible. There's no harm in taking memory tests on the Internet for fun, the same way you might try a puzzle in a magazine. However, if you are concerned about yourself or a family member, seek professional evaluation.

One test of executive function is the Trail-Making test. On the first part of this test, you'll see a page with circles, each with a number inside. You'll have to connect the circles in numerical order as quickly as possible—a relatively simple task. On the second part of the test, you'll see circles containing either a number or a letter. This time, you'll have to connect the circles by alternating between numbers and letters: 1 to A to 2 to B to 3 to C and so on. Both speed and accuracy are scored.

• Language. Subtle problems with naming and word finding can be early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease or a rare neurological disorder known as primary progressive aphasia, in which language function is gradually impaired. You will be asked to name common objects or pictured items. You might also be asked to follow instructions as a way of testing language comprehension and praxis, the ability to carry out a behavioral response to a verbal instruction. Other tests of language ability include comprehension of written material, repetition of phonemically complex words and phrases, and narrative writing in response to a standard stimulus picture. • Spatial ability. Spatial ability involves analyzing visual information, such as shapes, faces, and routes between locations on a map. Tests include drawing and copying designs, solving maze puzzles, and using blocks to construct a specific pattern. The right hemisphere of the brain has a special role in spatial tasks like these, so difficulty with these tests may indicate a problem affecting this brain region. In some cases, symptoms that suggest a dysfunction of the right side of the brain are early symptoms of the so-called visual variant of Alzheimer's disease. Before you jump to the conclusion that your difficulty reading a map reflects a neurological disorder, be assured that all people have a profile of cognitive strengths and weaknesses; relative difficulty in one area may reflect nothing more than a normal developmental pattern.

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