What you don't know can hurt you.
Many people, even after repeated memory lapses, are fearful of getting tested or even mentioning the problem to their doctor. The rationale may be that since there's no cure for Alzheimer's disease, they'd rather not know if they have it. That's not good thinking.
"Just because you have a memory problem doesn't mean you have Alzheimer's disease," says Eric Hall, president of the Alzheimer's Foundation of America (alzfdn.org). "It's a long way to go before you end up with that diagnosis."
For those who have been thinking about getting screened for memory problems but need a little extra nudge, there are no more excuses. The foundation is sponsoring National Memory Screening Day on Tuesday. Thousands of sites around the country, including several on Long Island, will offer free screenings.
The tests are administered by a health-care professional in a one-on-one setting. The entire testing process takes about 10 minutes. You will get your results immediately. Hall stresses that the results are not a diagnosis of any memory condition. They are an indication of whether there may be a problem that requires a follow-up by a physician. If the score indicates there might be a problem, the health care professional will discuss the results and give you a list of questions you should ask your doctor.
Hall notes that the screenings are not primarily intended to find people with Alzheimer's. In fact, it is the opposite. "The event is aimed at eradicating the idea that memory problems means Alzheimer's," he says. "There are many causes for memory problems, and some of them are reversible." For example, a vitamin B deficiency or side effects from a combination of prescription drugs can sometimes cause memory problems that mimic dementia.
But even in a worst-case scenario, where the tests indicate a problem and a follow-up diagnosis by a physician confirms dementia, it is better to know. There are treatments that can slow the onset of symptoms, giving more time for the affected person and loved ones to plan for future needs.
For a list of sites near you and times when screenings are available, go to afascreenings.org. You also can call the foundation at 866-232-8484, Monday through Friday. While Screening Day is officially Tuesday, many sites are holding free screenings throughout the week and beyond.
"If you're having a memory problem and you have a concern, this is a really good first step," Hall says.