Why You Should Get Screened for Early Signs of Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

Memory screening for dementia-related diseases is simple, safe and easy.

While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, early detection allows patients to alter their lifestyles to maintain quality of life — and it helps them determine if medications that may help in the early stages of memory loss are right for them and could better prepare them for long-term plans.

Why should I get screened?

A loss of memory does not mean you have Alzheimer’s disease, but it can be a symptom of other ongoing issues in your life, such as stress, lack of sleep and anxiety. Getting screened is the first step in finding out if you have a memory problem related to Alzheimer’s.

If you are concerned about lapses in your memory, or if you suspect you have early signs of dementia, you should be screened. Losing your keys or forgetting names is common; having difficulty with daily tasks that you’ve always done or forgetting new, personal information such as family events is not.

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Even if you aren’t experiencing symptoms, screening is recommended for anyone who has a family history of Alzheimer’s, specifically if family members affected are siblings, parents or grandparents. This is especially important if they developed the disease in their 30s or 40s. Women are twice as likely to develop the disease and therefore should also consider screening.

Why get screened when Alzheimer’s is not curable?

“It’s a question we get all the time,” said Helena Chang Chui, MD, chair and professor of neurology and director of the USC Memory and Aging Center at Keck Medicine of USC. “Having the knowledge about what you will face helps to increase your quality of life — and that of your family.”

How does memory screening work?

Your doctor asks a series of questions to test your memory, language skills, cognitive abilities and other intellectual functions. Once your screening is scored, he or she will discuss the results and determine what follow-up care, if any, is needed. No memory test is 100 percent accurate, so don’t hesitate if you think you need a second opinion.

What type of follow-up care might be needed?

Your doctor may order medical tests like hormone, thyroid, glucose and blood tests to look for other factors causing memory loss. You might be referred to a support group if you have a positive diagnosis. In perplexing situations, you may be asked to have a lead test to determine if there are heavy metals in your blood, a lumbar puncture for proteins in spinal fluid, a toxicology screening to examine drugs in your body or any other types of tests that will help to rule out other causes.

Where does the screening take place?

Screenings are held in private at your doctor’s office.

What other resources are available to me?

The Alzheimer’s Association has a listening hotline (800-272-3900) for people who need support, or you can join an online community. Your family doctor can also provide you with contacts in your area. Interested in contributing to a cure? Consider joining a research study. Alzheimer’s Greater Los Angeles has a hotline providing care and support for families in greater Los Angeles and has a help and information hotline (844-435-7259).

For more than 30 years, Keck Medicine of USC physicians and researchers have made major contributions to understanding Alzheimer’s disease, vascular brain injury and memory problems.

If you are in the Los Angeles area and are looking for exceptional care from some of the top Alzheimer’s specialists in the world, schedule an appointment by calling (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or by visiting http://neuro.keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment/.

By Heidi Tyline King