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It’s Time to Make Dementia Screenings a Part of Your Preventative Wellness Routine. Here’s How -

Friday October 30, 2015 - Jennifer Prell
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Misplacing your keys or temporarily forgetting the name of an acquaintance can be normal signs of aging. But if those moments of forgetfulness begin to multiply and inhibit your regular activities, it could be an indication of something more serious: Alzheimer's or another form of dementia. Today, dementia affects nearly one in three older adults. Since most forms of dementia worsen over time, early intervention is the best hope of slowing the progression of the disease, and seeking regular dementia screenings is one of the best ways to make early intervention possible.


“Early signs of dementia are often overlooked and characterized as simple forgetfulness,” explains Dr. Sherrie All, a licensed clinical psychologist at Chicago Center for Cognitive Wellness. “Regular dementia screenings are an effective way to distinguish normal age-related changes in memory from more serious conditions, and ultimately improve rates of early detection.”


Begin the conversation


According to Dr. All, most dementia screenings begin with a visit to a primary care physician. Primary care doctors are able to perform brief screening tests, which are part of the General Practitioner Assessment of Cognition (GPCOG). These tests take less than two minutes to complete, and assess both cognition and function.


In these tests, the patient may be asked to perform a number of tasks, including drawing a clock face set to a specific time, making change for a dollar or spelling a common word backward. These routine screenings help physicians identify potential signs of dementia and rule out other health concerns that can cause cognitive symptoms, such as sleep apnea, a B12 deficiency or a thyroid disorder.


Take further action


If concerns arise, Dr. All explains that most primary care physicians will refer their patients to a neurologist to evaluate further physical concerns, or directly to a neuropsychologist for more detailed cognitive testing.


The neurologist will typically begin by conducting a physical exam of neurological function and asking orientation questions, such as "Who is the president of the United States?" An answer of "Eisenhower," or an uncertain response would both be likely indicators of dementia. A neurologist can also order imaging to determine if there are abnormalities in the brain that might indicate the presence of dementia or other cognitive problems.


The neuropsychologist will assess the full spectrum of brain functions, including memory, executive function and language, through a variety of standardized memory and skill tests objective tests to assess each area of cognition. Test scores are then compared to those of healthy adults in the same age group.


Seek support


When referred to a neuropsychologist, most patients can expect further cognitive testing, and ultimately, a diagnosis that explains the root cause of their memory issues. A neuropsychologist can also work with family members, suggest support services like CMSS’ monthly caregiver support group and recommend preventative and interventional strategies after a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or dementia has been reached.


Unfortunately, there is no proven cure for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, but early detection and intervention can make these conditions more manageable. Dr. All emphasizes that older adults must begin thinking about preventative memory care before they exhibit signs of inhibited cognition. Instead of waiting for a demonstrated reason for concern, adults over 50 should simply commit to making a dementia screening part of their regular annual checkup.


“Even if you aren’t experiencing any signs of memory loss today, regular dementia screenings are an opportunity to gain a better understanding of your healthy brain function,” Dr. All explains. “Then, if signs of dementia do present themselves in the future, we’ll be able to detect them more accurately and intervene more quickly.”


About the Author

Bill Lowe is the President of Chicagoland Methodist Senior Services, the largest network of senior services on Chicago's north side.

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