Harmonizing Testing for Dementia in Europe

The DZNE is leading an international effort to standardize testing for cognitive impairment in Europe. Such harmonization would help the early detection of dementia and facilitate the comparison of data from different clinical studies. Experts from more than 50 institutions are involved in this initiative. In the scientific journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia they present a set of neuropsychological tests as a standard for use in research and clinical routine.

“Blood tests are done pretty much the same way wherever you go. It’s a different story, when you test for cognitive disorders, which can be a sign of dementia. Although in the US and in German-speaking countries, neuropsychological assessment is sometimes standardized, this does not apply to the European level, and especially not to the clinical area. Test procedures vary even within a single country,” says Dr. Marina Boccardi, a DZNE scientist in Rostock, Germany. “All these tests are scientifically validated, but the lack for uniformity makes it difficult to compare test scores from different clinical studies. The same applies to clinical routine, as different memory clinics and medical specialist practices might use different tests. There is a need for harmonization.”

Towards Standardized Assessment

Thus, starting with a kick-off meeting in Geneva, funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation and other institutions, Boccardi has assembled a large group of experts to pave the way towards common standards in Europe in testing for cognitive disorders. Taking into account latest scientific findings, the consortium, which includes clinicians, critically reviewed existing neuropsychological tests and selected eight of them as the standard battery. “The tests our group of experts agreed upon, probe different cognitive functions like memory, processing complex information, language and social skills. They are sensitive to a variety of conditions that can be associated with cognitive impairment, including Alzheimer’s and frontotemporal dementia,” Boccardi says. “All these tests can be done with a paper and pencil. The tasks range from drawing simple pictures to memorizing certain words and recalling them later.”

For Academia and Practice

“Changing clinical habits is not easy, but both science and patient care would benefit. Harmonization will contribute to early detection of dementia and more consistent and cost-effective diagnostic procedures,” Boccardi says. “However, further steps are required such as adapting the test battery to the different European cultures and languages, in order to guarantee a consistent assessment of performance. Thus, implementation will still take some time. But with this consensus, we can already start converging towards consistent clinical practice for diagnosing dementia.”

Original Paper

Harmonizing neuropsychological assessment for mild neurocognitive disorders in Europe.
Marina Boccardi et al.
Alzheimer’s & Dementia (2021)
DOI: 10.1002/alz.12365

The paper can be freely accessed thanks to DZNE’s participation in the DEAL initiative.
July 2021

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