SENIOR SPOTLIGHT: The value of memory screening

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. 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 am 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% of individuals who responded to the study thought the behavioral symptoms of the people they were caring for (such as irritability or anxiety) 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% or higher probability of true or accurate screening results, similar to other established screening tests such as a mammogram or a 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. And it is now accepting participants. For more information about Memory Minders, The Dale Association, or its programs, please call Angie Crawshaw at 433-1886, extension 111, or via email at angie.crawshaw@daleassociation.com .

Maureen A. Wendt is president and CEO of The Dale Association, a non-profit organization that provides senior, mental health, in-home care, caregiver support services and enrichment activities for adults. For more information, call 433-1937 or visit www.daleassociation.com .

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