Early Screenings Crucial for Alzheimer's Patients
> 12/12/2008 3:02:22 PM

No one can diagnose Alzheimer’s with a quick blood or eye test. Its proof won’t be found in one’s gums, saliva or resting heart rate. But advocates and experts have begun to push for widespread adoption of the “memory screening” technique as a cursory survey of dementia-like symptoms. The memory screenings are simple, 5-minute tests that can be administered by nearly anyone. They don’t require a visit to the doctor’s office. And while their results won’t scream “Alzheimer’s” on the spot, they may lead to all-important medical follow-ups and, if adopted on a large scale, boost treatment rates for millions of affected Americans.

These “highly controversial” screenings seem innocuous enough – nearly everyone has undergone some kind of similar test in the past. The administer simply presents the subject with a list of everyday words, asks him or her complete basic cognitive tasks involving picture-drawing or the placement of various objects in their proper places and then asks the subject to recall the initial list to the best of his/her ability.

The results of this deceptively simple test, however, can have significant ramifications. They’re particularly important for aging subjects with a family history of dementia or Alzheimer’s or those whose caregivers and/or loved ones suspect the onset of some cognitive decline. Their major role is in convincing these individuals to seek more comprehensive testing with medical professionals who can better determine whether they’re actually suffering from early versions of a condition that demands eventual treatment. If a test score is lower than the expected average, a trip to the clinic will most likely be in store. And even if the test result means nothing, one cannot be too overly cautious when considering possible Alzheimer’s cases.

The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America sponsors a national Screening Day each year, and in the face of recent reports emphasizing the importance of early detection and the role dementia plays in other potentially fatal health events, we say these pre-emptive surveys are as good an approach as any. Getting affected patients to seek treatment is the most important part of the equation – and a non-threatening survey like this one is a first step.

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