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Suggesting a Memory Screening

December 6, 2010

By Kevin Gault

It can be a touchy moment: You notice changes in a loved one’s cognitive abilities, want to suggest screening for possible memory deficit, but aren’t sure how to go about doing that. If that sounds like a situation you’ll be in soon, read on.

The entire family should consult with a healthcare professional to bring up the subject of a memory screening.

When a caregiver suggests to an older family member that they have their memory evaluated, the loved one often responds with fear, denial or even hostility. It’s a very difficult issue for older people and it’s important to choose the right way to talk about it.

“A family member should keep in mind that the prospect of a memory screening can be very confronting for an older person,” says Danielle Arends, advanced practice nurse at the Rush Memory Clinic at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Ill. “The thought of it can create strong feelings of anxiety—possibly fear of what may be found out—embarrassment and for some people, a lack of understanding about why they need to have a memory screening done.”

It’s important to realize that a proper diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is a multi-step process that requires testing administered by a trained neurologist. A memory screening is only an initial step in this process. In addition, not all people with Alzheimer’s have a significant memory problems in the early stages of the disease. Alzheimer’s can begin with language problems and problems with day to day functioning.

Stay Positive
According to Arends, when mentioning a memory screening—a series of questions and tasks that detect impairments in memory and thinking—it’s best to accentuate the positive. Explain to your loved one that finding memory problems early increases the chances of better care if dementia or Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed. “The earlier you intervene in this condition, both medically and with cognitive therapy, the better your chance of slowing the symptoms and achieving a better quality of life,” Arends says.

When should you suggest a memory evaluation? Observe the loved one’s behavior. When their faltering memory causes problems finding words, a detachment from people, irritability, confusion, forgotten appointments or difficulty with everyday affairs such as grocery shopping, cooking or paying bills, it’s time to broach the subject. Ultimately, a family should rely on gut instinct—they know their loved one better than anyone else.

When it’s time for that important talk, the primary caregiver in the family shouldn’t go it alone. “They need to ‘huddle up’ as a family,” says Dr. Jamie Huysman (www.drjamie.com), PsyD, LCSW, CAP, CFT, psychologist, social worker and adjunct professor at Florida International University. “Usually the primary caregiver closest to the loved one is dealing with a lot in addition to caring for their loved one: job stress, their kids and all of the other anxieties in their own lives. Families should share the load. Have a group conversation about the loved one and the behaviors that you’ve observed, and make plans as a family for the next steps.”

Choosing the Best Way
There are four basic ways to approach your loved one about having a memory screening, the first two of which are not recommended:

Additional Tips for Best Results
Here are some other helpful suggestions for handling this difficult situation:

Do you have a question you would like to ask the experts at the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation? If so, please call 1-800-ALZINFO, visit ALZinfo.org or send surface mail to Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation, 110 East 42nd Street, 16th Floor, New York, NY 10017, or e-mail info@alzinfo.org.

Source: www.ALZinfo.org. Author: Kevin Gault, Preserving Your Memory: The Magazine of Health and Hope; Fall 2010.

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