Remember ME - You Me and Dementia

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Six Things You Should Know About Memory Screenings

Now that Alzheimer's disease is recognized as a growing health problem among older (and sometimes, younger) adults, a variety of memory screenings have been developed and offered as means of early detection. There are arguments on both sides of the issue regarding whether memory screenings are a good idea. The decision is up to you, but in order to make an informed choice, here are six things you should know about memory screenings.

1. A Memory Screening Should Not Be Used to Make a Diagnosis
Memory screenings cannot and should not be used to make a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease or any other memory impairment. Screenings can only indicate whether further evaluation is needed based on the identification of certain signs and symptoms.

2. A Memory Screening Does Not Replace a Diagnostic Workup
Alzheimer's disease can only be diagnosed through a comprehensive diagnostic workup that includes a medical and medication history, complete physical exam, mood evaluation, and appropriate laboratory and imaging tests. Memory screenings consist of a series of questions and tasks that can detect possible impairments in memory and thinking, but nothing more.

3. Memory Screenings Should Only Be Performed by Qualified ProfessionalsExamples of qualified professionals are social workers, nurse practitioners, and physicians. Primary care settings are common and reliable places to obtain memory screenings from those who have adequate training. If you choose to have a memory screening at a health fair or similar public event, be sure to ask about the credentials of the person conducting the screening. Volunteers who are not medically trained should not perform memory screenings.

4. Memory Screenings Should Be Confidential and Provide Follow-Up ResourcesMemory screenings should be conducted in quiet, confidential areas. Only you and the screener should be present. You should be assured that the results of the screening will not be released to a third party unless you provide consent.

The person conducting the screening should discuss the results with you and provide you with follow-up resources. For instance, if further evaluation is indicated, you should receive educational materials and referrals to local physicians who have expertise in Alzheimer's.

5. Memory Screenings Can Be Used to Establish a Baseline
Some people choose to have memory screenings even though they're not experiencing any memory problems in order to establish a baseline level of functioning. This baseline can then be compared to future memory screenings in order to detect potential memory problems.

If you choose this approach, be sure to have all of your memory screenings at the same location, such as your primary care physician's office. It's dangerous to compare memory screenings from different sources because of the lack of standardization among current screenings.

6. Opinions Differ on the Value of Memory Screenings
Two of the leading non-profit organizations that serve the Alzheimer's community differ in their views on memory screenings. While the Alzheimer's Foundation of America sponsors National Memory Screening Day as part of its mission, the Alzheimer's Association fears that even if memory screenings don't claim to provide a definitive diagnosis, just the idea that Alzheimer's may be present can cause undue distress to those taking the screenings.

There is no easy answer to the question of whether memory screenings are worth taking. Hopefully, these six tips will help you make the best decision for yourself or someone in your family.

7. SourcesMemory screenings. Alzheimer's Foundation of America. 2008.

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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