Why get screened for a disease if there is no cure yet?

Some older adults experiencing cognitive problems don't get a memory screening because they are afraid they may learn they are on the road to Alzheimer's or other dementias. But not knowing can be harmful if it's true, and even more harmful if it's not.

"All memory loss is not attributable to Alzheimer's," says Charles Fuschillo, president of the Alzheimer's Foundation of America. "You could have a vitamin deficiency, it could be related to a thyroid problem or it could be related to depression. Those three things could be correctable. So the question is, why not get screened?"

Fuschillo, a former state senator who represented Long Island's 8th District for nearly 16 years before taking over as AFA's president last year, notes screening is not a diagnosis. If the test shows abnormalities, the patient would be advised to see a physician for further evaluation.

Part of the AFA's mission is to make memory screenings readily available. The Manhattan-based nonprofit organization maintains a database of places where you can get a free screening, including several sites on Long Island. To find a site near you, call the AFA at 866-232-8484.

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Who should be screened? Fuschillo says those exhibiting Alzheimer's warning signs should be at the top of the list. The signs include becoming more forgetful, having trouble concentrating, having difficulty performing familiar tasks and having trouble recalling words or names. For a full list, go to nwsdy.li/alzwarning

Even if further evaluation confirms the prospect of Alzheimer's, there are reasons you should know as early as possible. "There are medications that can slow down the progression," Fuschillo says, although he adds their effectiveness varies with each person. But knowing early also lets you take a bigger role in your own care by reviewing your financial status and revising your health care coverage. "These are things that need to be discussed early on while somebody is still cognizant," Fuschillo says.

The AFA is holding a free full-day care conference on Friday at the New York Hilton on Sixth Avenue between West 53rd and West 54th streets. The conference, aimed at professional and family caregivers and those who want to know more about Alzheimer's, will include memory screenings and discussions on Medicaid and other insurance.

If you are the caregiver for a person with Alzheimer's, you can bring your loved one. Free on-site respite care will be provided during the conference. To register, go to nwsdy.li/afaregister or call 866-232-8484.