An overwhelming number of Americans with memory concerns fail to report this health issue with their doctors despite visits within the past six months, according to results released today of a survey of participants in the Alzheimer's Foundation of America (AFA) National Memory Screening Day. AFA announced the results at a poster session at the Alzheimer's Association's 11th International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease in Chicago.
"The results highlight a significant hole in our healthcare system," said Eric J. Hall, AFA's president and chief executive officer. "They re-confirm our fears that this issue is being swept under the carpet and not being talked about with professionals. An open dialogue is essential to proper diagnosis and treatment."
Richard E. Powers, M.D., chairman of AFA's Medical Advisory Board, said he is particularly concerned because the aging population is at increased risk of memory issues. "Not all memory complaints mark Alzheimer's disease, but if they do, the earlier an individual knows, the earlier he or she can be treated, plan for the future and embrace social services support. This is a window of opportunity to delay cognitive decline and thereby improve quality of life for individuals with the disease and their families," he said.
The survey involved 2,178 adults who took advantage of free confidential memory screenings at community sites nationwide as part of AFA's National Memory Screening Day on November 13, 2007, an annual initiative aimed at promoting proper detection of memory concerns, including Alzheimer's disease and related dementia, and providing education about memory issues and successful aging.
Of the respondents, 68.1 percent self-reported memory complaints, but only 21.1 percent had discussed them with their healthcare providers. This failure to communicate occurred despite recent visits to their primary care physician; of those with memory concerns, 40.3 percent had seen their primary care physician within the last month, and 44.3 percent had an appointment within the last six months.
Failure to report memory symptoms to the respondent's physician was independent of gender, age, ethnicity or educational background.
In addition, 21 percent said they kept the concerns entirely to themselves. Those who shared their complaints did so with a spouse (41.2 percent), friend (30 percent) or adult child (25.5 percent).
The median age of respondents was 72. While age poses the greatest risk for Alzheimer's disease, affecting mostly people aged 65 and older, the survey also found that those who came in for screenings had other healthcare concerns that are known risk factors for the brain disorder. Among them, 18.3 percent reported that they are depressed; 16.4 percent have diabetes; and 14.4 percent said they are obese.
"Americans need to step up their efforts to optimize overall health, including brain health. The threat of Alzheimer's disease and co-existing conditions is too great to ignore," Powers emphasized.
Asked why participants came in for a screening, 32.3 percent said they were forgetful and 40.6 percent wanted to establish a baseline.
Currently, AFA is gearing up for its 6th annual National Memory Screening Day, which will be held on November 18. Free confidential screenings will be available nationwide at various community sites, including the entire chain of 1,100 Kmart pharmacies, local Alzheimer's agencies, senior and community centers, assisted living facilities, adult day centers, and doctor's offices. For information, visit www.nationalmemoryscreening.org.
AFA urges anyone concerned about changes in their memory or other mental functions to visit a local screening site. Warning signs include: forgetting people's names and events, asking repetitive questions, loss of verbal or written skills, confusion over daily routines, and erratic mood swings.
The face-to-face screening takes about five to ten minutes to complete and consists of a series of simple questions and tasks. It is administered by a qualified healthcare professional, such as a physician, nurse, psychologist, pharmacist, or social worker. It is not a diagnosis, and healthcare professionals encourage those with abnormal scores as well as those who still have concerns to pursue a full medical exam. Follow up with a primary care physician or other clinician may reveal that the person is suffering from a reversible condition such as a vitamin deficiency or thyroid problem, or from an irreversible disorder like Alzheimer's disease.
The Alzheimer's Foundation of America is a national nonprofit organization headquartered in New York and made up of more than 950 member organizations that provide hands-on programs to meet the educational, emotional, practical and social needs of families affected by Alzheimer's disease and related illnesses. AFA's services include a toll-free hot line, counseling, educational materials, a free caregiver magazine, and professional training. For information, call (toll-free) 866-AFA-8484 or visit www.alzfdn.org.
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