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A simple clock drawing test can reveal far more than you might think about dementia

If you have ever consulted a doctor about memory problems then you might have been asked to draw a clock face. Why? Because evidence suggests that drawing a clock is an excellent measure of certain types of brain functions associated with dementia.

Dementia experts have known this for quite some time, which is why the Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE) sometimes includes being asked to draw a clock. This week Professor Graham Stokes, global director of dementia care at Bupa, revealed that the clock drawing test is one of the most reliable tests for dementia. ‘It has a reliability of around 85 per cent,’ he confirmed.

So why can a simple clock face be so significant? First, you have to remember what a clock looks like (this is called an executive function) and then you have to remember how to draw a circle, the sequence of 1 -12 and hands to show the time. How you go about this and the end results can reveal a huge amount to the trained eye. Incorrectly placed numbers, skewed circles and missing numbers may all indicate damage to different areas of the brain.

But experts warn against doing the test yourself at home and self diagnosis. Scoring each drawing is more complex than you might think and needs to be done by a professional.

This clock was drawn by a woman in her seventies with moderate dementia.