Archive for Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Memory screenings are overlooked, group says

December 9, 2008


— There’s no mammogram or Pap smear for Alzheimer’s disease. Yet an Alzheimer’s group this week begins a push for simple memory screenings in a bid to catch possible warning signs of dementia sooner.

Memory screenings — five-minute mini-tests, doable at a health fair — are hugely controversial. But the provocative new report from the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America contends they’re a valuable but overlooked tool. The government has begun reviewing whether there’s enough science to back broader use of them.

How do they work? One example: Tell someone three random words — car, pencil, banana. Then have the person draw a clock with the correct time, as a distraction. A little later, can he or she recall those three words?

Failing such a test doesn’t mean someone has dementia. But it signals there might be a problem with short-term memory that should be checked by a doctor. Maybe it’s something fixable, like depression or thyroid disease. Maybe it is an Alzheimer’s warning sign. Or maybe it’s a false alarm and the person just isn’t a good test-taker.

There’s clearly demand. The Alzheimer’s Foundation sponsors a “memory screening day” each November and last month’s drew 50,000 takers, 10,000 more than the previous year.

“What we’re trying to accomplish is the entry-level ’let’s get memory on the radar screen,”’ says the foundation’s Dr. Richard Powers, medical director of the Alabama Department of Mental Health. “Nobody has a strategy to deal with this.”

Indeed, more than 5 million Americans and 26 million people worldwide have Alzheimer’s. Cases are projected to skyrocket in the next two decades as the population ages. Yet few are diagnosed in the earliest stages of the relentless brain decay, when today’s medications are most helpful.


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