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5 Tests That Could Save Your Life

Surprising screenings that can pick up the early signs of illness

En español l You're familiar with blood pressure tests, cholesterol screenings and blood workups to analyze your health. But did you know there are lesser-known, noninvasive tests that often detect signs of an underlying disease? The five modified tests that follow may pick up warning signs of dementia, Parkinson's, even premature death. Try them, and if you perform poorly, bring your concerns to your doctor.

Health Report: Surprising Tests for Good Health, Oprah and President Obama

Can you name these famous faces? — Joel Kimmel

1. Name That Famous Face

What it detects: Dementia

How it works: Do you find yourself blanking out on names of famous celebrities or close friends? Researchers at Northwestern University recently published a study that found that the inability to recognize or name famous faces in midlife was associated with an increased risk for a form of dementia known as primary progressive aphasia (PPA). The rare disease usually affects adults ages 40 through 65, says the study's lead author, Tamar Gefen. PPA, marked by a loss of tissue in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain (the language centers), is characterized by a gradual deterioration in the ability to communicate with others.

What to do: While the test used in the study involved 20 faces, you can do this simplified version at home. Pick up a magazine and see if you can name the celebrities — like, above, Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama. You get two points for first and last names, one point for one or the other, and zero points if you draw a blank. If you miss a few, no big deal. If you find yourself struggling (PPA patients scored lower than 50 percent), ask your doctor or a neurologist for a cognitive evaluation.

2. Assess Your Sleep Quality

What it detects: Parkinson's disease

How it works: Many people equate Parkinson's disease with tremors, but more subtle symptoms may provide earlier clues. In a new German study, patients from a special clinic for early Parkinson's were given questionnaires to evaluate pain, sleep and gastrointestinal symptoms, and their olfactory function was assessed. Compared with a control group, the Parkinson's patients were more likely to suffer abnormal REM sleep (the dreaming stage), a loss of smell, and constipation.

What to do: Ask yourself these questions.

1. Do you act out your dreams through talking or fighting (a sign of a REM sleep disorder)?

2. Are you having problems with smell (especially pungent foods, such as garlic)?

3. Have you been dealing with constipation for a month or longer?

If you answered yes to all of these, you may want to see your doctor. While there are no lab tests to diagnose Parkinson's, your physician may want to conduct neurological and physical exams. Early diagnosis can mean better treatment.

Next page: Detecting Alzheimer's disease. »

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