Putting Memory on the Radar Screen
Each November since 2003, the Alzheimer's Foundation of America has held National Memory Screening Day. This year is no different: the event takes place November 16. But what is different this time around is the urgency and significance of the initiative.
I always get asked by reporters: why memory screening day? The answer is rather simple: there are screenings for blood pressure, for diabetes, for cholesterol-why not for memory? Brain health is just as critical as the health of other parts of our body, yet it traditionally has taken a back seat in conversations in doctor's office and even around kitchen tables.
We have been intent on changing that, to bring discussions about memory concerns more into the mainstream. Toward that goal, National Memory Screening Day has been the focal point of our consumer and professional outreach.
Across the country this year, for AFA's 8th annual National Memory Screening Day, more than 2,300 sites-from doctor's offices and pharmacies to senior centers and libraries-will offer screenings. To find one, visit www.nationalmemoryscreening.org.
This is a situation where there's nothing to lose and everything to gain. Free. Confidential. Non-invasive. Safe. Convenient. The screening consists of a series of questions and tasks, and while the results do not represent a diagnosis, they can indicate whether a person should follow up with a physician.
The earlier the diagnosis of any condition causing memory problems, the better. If the end result is a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease, families can set a course of action in motion, including planning for future care, medical treatment, behavioral interventions and supportive services.
So why is this year different than previous years? The need for people to get screened has always been of utmost priority. But now the ranks of people who are at risk is about to intensify. The first wave of baby boomers turn 65 in 2011-and there is no doubt that, with advanced age the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer's disease, this generation is concerned about their memory.
Also, people are starting to "get it." We have made strides in raising awareness of the importance of early detection of memory problems.
Proof of this is the success of our advocacy efforts, getting policymakers, in addition to consumers and professionals, to understand the urgency of this issue. Starting in 2011, the new Medicare annual wellness exam includes detection of cognitive impairment. So now for Medicare beneficiaries, cognitive impairment is on equal footing with blood pressure and cancer checks.
The Alzheimer's Foundation of America advocated for making cognitive assessment part of the wellness physical based on the same belief that prompted us to start National Memory Screening Day: brain health must be a national priority.
We are making progress on this front. We are light years ahead of where we were eight years ago when we introduced National Memory Screening Day, even one year ago when a record number of people were screened. Yes, we have made progress, but there is a lot more to be done. We look toward the day when we don't talk about brain health becoming a national priority, but, rather that it is.