Concerned About Memory Loss? Get Screened

Eric J. Hall Health Guide
  • More than five years ago, I was in my car, casually listening to the radio when I heard a public service announcement about a Blood Pressure Screening Day. It was one of those moments when the proverbial light bulb goes off over your head - my head. There were screening days for blood pressure, colon cancer, depression, diabetes, etc., so why wasn't there a screening day for memory problems?


    That's when the idea for the Alzheimer's Foundation of America's (AFA) National Memory Screening Day was born. It tied in perfectly with AFA's objectives of promoting early detection and appropriate intervention, and raising awareness of Alzheimer's Disease.

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    So, in November 2002 and each November since, AFA has rallied local organizations from coast to coast to join together to encourage the public to check out their memory concerns. National Memory Screening Day is coming up this Tuesday, November 13.


    The initiative has snowballed. This year, nearly 2,000 sites nationwide will offer free confidential memory screenings, either on November 13 itself or another day in November. The sites are local and convenient-places like grassroots Alzheimer's agencies, senior centers, home care agencies, houses of worship, and doctors' offices. Plus, the entire chain of Kmart pharmacies will provide memory screenings, as well as other types of screenings, on its Gold K Day on November 16. Check out what's in your neighborhood by visiting our Web site or calling 866-232-8484.


    The screenings are quick-about five minutes. They are non-invasive-a series of questions and tasks. They are administered by qualified healthcare professionals-physicians, nurse practitioners, social workers, pharmacists, etc. They're face-to-face-so a dialogue can occur about the findings. They are telling-the score will indicate whether someone should pursue a complete medical evaluation.


    But they are not a diagnosis. A follow up exam may reveal that the person has a reversible condition such as a vitamin deficiency or thyroid problem, or an irreversible disorder like Alzheimer's disease.


    What we're trying to do here is solve an alarming quandary surrounding the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. We know the incidence of this brain disorder is rising as our population ages. But, unfortunately, people are not being diagnosed in a timely manner. We find that physicians and other healthcare professionals are often pressed for time, don't recognize symptoms or don't raise the issue. And we find that individuals with memory concerns, as well as their family members don't talk about it with their doctors. They keep their mouths closed due to fear, stigma, denial or misperceptions that Alzheimer's disease is a normal part of aging. It isn't.


    Also troublesome is that many folks don't even clue in their loved ones about their concerns. Last year, a couple was walking down the corridor of a hospital when they spotted a poster about National Memory Screening Day. They read the details, and, then, after a few moments, the husband spoke up. He broke his silence-a silence that had lasted not for those few minutes but for a long while. The man told his spouse that he had been forgetting things. He couldn't recall people's names. He was confused. He confessed that he needed help.


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    And he got it. When he went for a screening at a site near his home, his score was abnormal. He was encouraged to see his physician for further evaluation, and, when he did, he subsequently received a diagnosis and treatment for Alzheimer's disease.


    For this man and others who become proactive, screenings ultimately can lead to better quality of life. The earlier medications are taken for Alzheimer's disease, the better they will slow the progression of symptoms. Individuals can do advance planning about legal, financial and long-term care issues, and they and their families can embrace support services.


    On National Memory Screening Day, or any day, I encourage you or someone you know with memory problems to get screened. Memory screenings are a first step-and a giant step-worth taking.

Published On: November 09, 2007