When people hear about the growing number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia each year, they might understandably be frightened that they or a loved one will also have the illness. Yet with more tools than ever for early detection, there should be less to fear.
The General Practitioner assessment for Cognition (GPCOG)-- is such test, administered by professionals in nursing homes and churches. It’s really a baseline to give to a doctor or, put another way, remember that screening tools for dementia are not a diagnosis of a disease.
In fact, sometimes a screening test might uncover a non-dementia cause for cognitive impairment.
Cognitive impairment could be the result of medication, thyroid problems or something else. Also, a screening test can be handy not just to test for existing cognitive issues, but also to provide a primary care doctor with one’s prior cognitive state. For example, if you got in a car accident and had brain fog, then the doctor would know your status prior to that.
Early detection of Alzheimer’s and other dementia is now even recognized as so important that The Affordable Care Act includes a provision for Medicare users to get an annual wellness visit during which they discuss concerns about cognitive impairment with their doctor.
“People are not talking to their doctors,” said Carol Steinberg, President of theNational Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. “A screening is not a substitute for a doctor’s visit and we do encourage people to go in for a full-scale examination. This is a first step to earlier detection.”
Steinberg said that patients and their doctors may not even be aware of the provision for cognitive impairment review during their annual wellness exam.
Although there is presently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, Steinberg and other experts agree that there are many benefits to early detection—either because dementia is actually ruled out and another cause is found and addressed or because it helps the individual and their family prepare for the changes that come with the illness.
The GPCOG and other screening tests work best for people who are in the early stage of Alzheimer’s and other dementia.
National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month in November is a perfect time to consider a screening test for yourself or a loved one. The National Alzheimer’s Foundation of America sponsors National Memory Screening Day on Nov. 19 at about 2,500 sites across the country. Screenings are conducted by health care professional and typically take about five minutes of time for a face-to-face questionnaire.
“It’s done in a safe environment and it is non-invasive,” said Steinberg. “It’s really important for people to address their memory concerns.”
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