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50+: Live Better, Longer

Jury Still Out on Routine Dementia Screening for Seniors

Panel says benefits unproven, but Alzheimer's experts say early detection is important
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Nicole Raisch, a spokeswoman for the USPSTF, took issue with Gandy's statement, however.

"The Task Force's recommendations are based solely on an assessment of the evidence, weighing both the benefits and harms of a preventive service," she said. "The Task Force does not consider the costs of providing a service in its appraisal of the effectiveness of a preventive service."

According to Gandy, many doctors avoid diagnosing dementia because, among other reasons, discussion of a dementia diagnosis with patients and family "is time consuming and the outlook is hopeless."

"The task force's advice that we look the other way can be interpreted as providing justification for this practice and misses an opportunity to elevate the conversation on dementia," he said.

Gandy said a recent report found that Alzheimer's may kill six times as many people as previously believed.

"This figure came as no surprise to dementia specialists," he said. "As long as primary-care physicians and other professionals fail to confront the epidemic status of dementia, the more time will be required before governments take seriously the economic threat of the dementia epidemic."

Heather Snyder, director of medical and scientific operations at the Alzheimer's Association, said there is value in detecting dementia early, despite the task force's stance.

"Their recommendation is that they can't make a recommendation," she said. "It's very important to separate insufficient evidence from no evidence."

The Alzheimer's Association supports early detection and diagnosis of Alzheimer's, Snyder said. "We know there is a better chance that an individual would be able to benefit from the current medications that are available," she said. "They would be able to take advantage of clinical trials and participate in conversations with their family about planning for their care and financial future."

According to the task force, dementia affects approximately 2.4 million to 5.5 million Americans. It results in trouble remembering, speaking, learning new things, concentrating and making decisions that affect daily life.

Alzheimer's disease is one type of dementia. Mental decline is not always as severe as Alzheimer's.

A recent study, published in the March/April edition of the journal Annals of Family Medicine, found that only about 20 percent of people who experience mild cognitive impairment will go on to develop serious brain-related disorders such as Alzheimer's.

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