SENIOR SPOTLIGHT: Memory screenings and 'Cranium Crunches'

Maureen Wendt

Most people with dementia remain undiagnosed by their primary care providers, and families often fail to recognize the significance of early cognitive symptoms. Early diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease or other types of dementia is critical. It allows the individual and their family to learn and plan better for the future.

There has been a growing interest in screenings for memory problems. A screening can check a person's memory and other thinking skills. It can indicate whether someone might benefit from a more complete medical visit. Early intervention means better quality of life. A person experiencing changes in memory can improve their ability to manage future affairs by seeking help as soon as possible.

It is important to identify the disease or problem that is causing memory loss. Some memory problems can be readily treated, such as those caused by vitamin deficiencies or thyroid problems. Other memory problems might result from causes that are not currently reversible, such as Alzheimer's disease. In general, the earlier the diagnosis, the easiest it is to treat one of these conditions.

All individuals should be empowered to make informed decisions to better manage their own health, not discouraged from screening based. Memory screenings are a significant first step toward finding out if a person may have a memory problem. Memory problems could be caused by Alzheimer's disease or other medical conditions.

Who should be screened? Memory screenings make sense for anyone concerned about memory loss or experiencing warning signs of dementia; whose family and friends have noticed changes in them; or who believe they are at risk due to a family history of Alzheimer's disease or a related illness.

Questions to ask:

Am I becoming for forgetful?

Do I have trouble concentrating?

Do I have trouble performing familiar tasks?

Do I have trouble recalling words or names in conversation?

Do I sometimes forget where I am or where I am going?

Am I misplacing things more often?

Have family or friends told me that I repeating questions or saying the same thing over and over again?

Have I become lost when walking or driving?

Have my family or friends noticed changes in my mood, behavior, personality or desire to do things?

According to a recent survey by Alzheimer's Foundation of America, 64 percent of individuals who responded to the study thought the behavioral symptoms (such as irritability, anxiety) of the people they were caring for were a normal part of aging prior to their diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. Sixty-seven percent of these caregivers stated that these thoughts delayed the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease.

Alzheimer's disease is not a normal part of aging, but age is the greatest risk factor. The number of people with the disease doubles for every five-year age interval beyond 65.

The memory screening test has 80 to 90 percent or higher probability of true or accurate screening results, similar to other established screening tests such as a mammogram and Pap smear.

And, a program for individuals in the early stages of memory impairment is available right here in Niagara County. The dementia-care program emphasizes memory enhancement through cognitive stimulation, education and socialization and is for people in the early stages of memory loss due to Alzheimer's disease, stroke, Mild Cognitive Impairment, Parkinson's disease, or any number of other diseases characterized by memory loss.

Memory Minders, a social program for individuals with mild memory loss, is among The Dale Association's community support services helping to improve the quality of life for adults. For more information about Memory Minders, The Dale Association, or its programs, please contact Angie Blackley at 433-1886, extension 111, or angie.blackley@daleassociation.

Or, if you are looking for a fun way to keep the brain stimulated, maybe "Cranium Crunches" is something for you. Stomach crunches are a basic exercise for abdominal strength. Does that mean that cranium crunches will build strength in your cranium?

You may have heard that the brain is plastic. As you know, the brain is not made of plastic. Neuroplasticity (or brain plasticity) refers to the brain's ability to change throughout life. The human brain has the amazing ability to reorganize itself by forming new connections between brain cells.

For a long time it was believed that as we aged, the connections in the brain became fixed. Research has shown that in fact the brain never stops changing through learning. Plasticity is the capacity of the brain to change with learning. Changes associated with learning occur mostly at the level of the connections between neurons. New connections can form and the internal structure of the existing synapses can change.

Cranium Crunches is one way to use brain plasticity to its capacity, that is, to build your brain. The program uses brain games to stimulate new connections in the brain. It is offered on the third Tuesday of the month from 10 to 11 a.m. at The Dale Association, 33 Ontario St. Please call 433-1886 to reserve your seat for Jan. 15 and you will see that you want to mark your calendar for the third Tuesday of every month.