FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | December 8, 2008
New Study Disputes Ongoing Controversy over Memory Screenings
Report Cites Proven Benefits, Calls for National Dementia Screening Policy
NEW YORK, NY—As the nation faces a public health crisis related to Alzheimer’s disease, a new report released today by the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) disputes an ongoing controversy over the value and utilization of memory screenings. The report shatters unsubstantiated criticism and instead emphasizes the safety and cost-effectiveness of these tools and calls on Congress to develop a national dementia screening policy.
The study, entitled “Memory Matters,” sheds light on the debate as the nation’s aging population, which is most at risk for the chronic brain disease, is booming, and as Americans in general are anxious about healthcare concerns and costs.
“This is a real world problem of escalating proportions that requires real world solutions,” said Richard E. Powers, M.D., chairman of AFA’s Medical Advisory Board and one of the authors of the report. “Our nation must elevate age-related health issues to a high priority, and memory screenings need to be a critical part of that discussion.”
Eric J. Hall, AFA’s president and CEO, said the report serves as a “wake up call” to the public and medical professionals, as well as to policymakers.
“Lifting the barriers to early detection is long overdue,” Hall said. “Conversations about brain health are not taking place. We must educate and empower consumers to talk openly about memory concerns, particularly with primary care providers, so they get the attention and quality of life they deserve.”
The release of the report comes just in time for holiday gatherings—a time when many families recognize changes, or possible warning signs of dementia, in their loved ones. Awareness of warning signs is not a substitute for a structured screening or consultation with a primary care provider, according to the authors.
Current research supports memory screenings “as a simple and safe evaluation tool that assesses memory and other intellectual functions and indicates whether additional testing is necessary,” the authors said. “Screenings also can reassure the healthy individual and promote successful aging.”
Performed in medical or community settings, a screening typically consists of a series of questions and tasks and takes about five to ten minutes to administer.
One main argument against memory screening is the unsubstantiated assertions of potential adverse consequences, the report said. However, the authors emphasized that screening results do not represent a diagnosis.
“Screening tests in general simply help determine whether diagnostic tests should be considered,” the authors said. “A ‘positive’ result from a memory screening should never be interpreted as a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or a related illness or other illnesses—no more than a ‘positive’ mammogram means an individual has breast cancer.”
Some conditions that cause symptoms of dementia, such as hormone imbalances and vitamin deficiency, can be reversed. Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia, is irreversible. The incidence of dementia doubles approximately every five years in individuals between the ages of 65 and 95.
“It is irresponsible to leave the disease undetected to the extent it is now when there are safe tools available to increase earlier detection,” they noted. “The implementation of screening programs in the community healthcare system can rectify the failure of current diagnostic practices…and significantly improve case identification.”
According to the study, it is estimated that missed diagnoses are greater than 25 percent of the dementia cases and may be as high as 90 percent.
It emphasized that early identification of dementia benefits the person with the disease, the caregiver, the family and society, including cost benefits, noting that most researchers agree that most available medications for Alzheimer’s disease are best given when the individual has mild symptoms. Other benefits include adoption of healthy lifestyles; participation in support groups; home safety modifications; and long-term care planning.
Citing the absence of a national strategy on dementia screening in particular and dementia in general, the authors suggested a national policy that includes the formation of a panel of consumers and experts to craft screening recommendations; guidance by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services on circumstances under which providers should screen for cognitive impairment; recommendations to promote intellectual health; and medical school training on dementia and memory problems in general.
AFA officials noted that community-based screenings, such as those provided on AFA’s National Memory Screening Day each November, have tremendous value.
“They serve as a catalyst for participants to then raise the issue of memory concerns with their primary care providers. That is powerful in and of itself,” Hall said.
In addition, Powers said, “Screenings offer an opportunity to deliver positive messages to people that they should make lifestyle changes to protect their brains as much as possible.”
Demand for screenings is evidenced by the success of AFA’s recent sixth annual National Memory Screening Day held on November 18, during which an estimated 50,000 people were given free confidential memory screenings at nearly 2,200 community sites nationwide. During last year’s event, approximately 16 percent of individuals who had a face-to-face screening scored positive and were referred to their primary care providers for follow-up. An AFA survey of participants revealed that fewer than one in four with self-reported memory complaints had previously discussed them with their physicians despite recent visits.
The study was authored by Richard E. Powers, M.D., J. Wesson Ashford, M.D., Ph.D., chairman of AFA’s Memory Screening Advisory Board, and Susan Peschin, MHS, AFA’s vice president of public policy. The full report is available for download at www.alzfdn.org.
The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America is a New York-based national nonprofit organization focused on providing optimal care to individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and related illnesses, and their families, and is made up of more than 950 member organizations nationwide. For more information, call 866-AFA-8484 or visit www.alzfdn.org.
Contact: Carol Steinberg