May 22, 2018 3:50 pm
Updated: May 22, 2018 8:56 pm

N.B. researcher creates index to determine patients at risk for developing dementia

There are new efforts to separate those at high risk of developing dementia, from those who are not. As Ross Lord reports, a researcher in the Maritimes is leading the way.


Sarah Pakzad is determined to improve the quality of healthcare for Canadians.

For seven years, the Paris-born researcher has been working from her office at the Universite de Moncton, to better predict the risk of people developing dementia.

“To be able to distinguish between people who are at high-risk of developing dementia, compared to those who are at lower risk of developing dementia,” Pakzad said.

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After surveying New Brunswick family doctors, she believes they are ill-equipped to make those distinctions. In part, she says, because existing questionnaires emphasize only physical symptoms.

Pakzad has developed an index that includes physical problems, like walking around the house, high blood pressure and bladder issues.

But it adds questions about short and long-term memory, verbal abstract thinking and judgment.

Pakzad says the index could thin out long waiting lists.

“To help the family physician know if this patient needs to be referred to this specialist or not.”

Medical waiting lists are a problem across Canada, especially in New Brunswick, where there’s a shortage of specialists.

“The ratio is maybe one geriatrician for 100,000 population. There’s a real bottleneck. This is not working,” says Bruno Battistini, CEO of the New Brunswick Health Research Foundation (HRF).

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HRF is funding much of Pakzad’s project, whose outcome could provide relief for patients.

Senior citizen Rosella Melanson, whose sister shows symptoms consistent with dementia, says her own memory makes her wonder.

“At our age, most of the time you forget stuff, and you think, ‘Oh my God do I have dementia, do I have Alzheimers?'” Melanson said.

Pakzad’s index has been peer-reviewed and published in the journal of geriatric medicine. She says it’s more than 90 per cent accurate.

Members of her project team are using one-on-one sessions with seniors to confirm her findings.

“I think I did OK, so, I think I’m OK,” says Irene McEniry, a New Brunswick senior who says she participated in the research out of curiosity.

The index is still more promising than proven.

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But, Pakzad says it could soon end up in a computer app, accessible to any health professional.

“The application is going to calculate automatically, the risk for the patient, to be at risk or not at risk.”

She hopes the app prototype is ready by next year — removing some confusion from a bewildering condition.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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