Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, accounting for up to 80 percent of cases. Other types include vascular dementia, many cases of Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease.
Someone without symptoms who does poorly on a screening test may have other medical conditions, such as depression or sleep apnea, that can cause memory or other problems, says Hartley. That’s why it’s important that people take the tests in a medical setting with a trained professional who can evaluate them and take a good medical history from patients and their family members, he says.
One-time screenings at shopping malls or health fairs should be avoided, experts agree. Taking a quick test without any accompanying medical evaluation may raise more questions than it answers.
But seniors may want to consider having an evaluation for cognitive impairment as part of their annual wellness visit with their health provider. It is covered with no out-of-pocket charge.
The Alzheimer’s Association recommends seniors undergo cognitive impairment screening and evaluation to establish a baseline for comparison, and then have regular follow-up assessments in subsequent years.
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Some drugs, such as Aricept, may improve memory or other symptoms temporarily, but no medical treatment halts or reverses the disease.
That is a key argument against large-scale routine screening of people older than 65, says Ariel Green, a geriatrician at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. “We don’t have studies that show that such a screening program improves the care of people with dementia,” she says.
Still, if an individual has concerns about dementia because of a family history of Alzheimer’s or memory lapses, for example, a medical professional should evaluate the person and a screening test may be appropriate.
And although research hasn’t yet shown that large-scale screening is effective at improving dementia care overall, screening may help individuals and their families identify a cognitive impairment or dementia early on. The drugs that are available are most effective in the early stages of the disease. In addition, Green says, “it’s helpful for people to hear a diagnosis of dementia, if it’s an accurate diagnosis, because it can help people anticipate their future needs and plan for that.”
Mon, May 05 2014