(ARA) – As the number of diagnosed cases continues to rise, many Americans still believe Alzheimer’s disease is a consequence of aging that has no remedy.

With as many as 4 million Americans currently afflicted, and the number expected to triple, options for Alzheimer’s detection and treatment are increasingly important to an aging population. Although there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease, it can be reliably identified and treated. In fact, there are medical treatments available that may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s if detected in its early stages.

The disease damages the brain cells responsible for intellectual functioning, including memory, intelligence, judgment and speech. People with Alzheimer’s experience a decline in cognitive abilities, such as thinking and understanding, and changes in behavior.

As individuals age and their loved ones begin to notice memory and behavior changes, many aren’t sure what to do. “When memory lapses become more severe or so frequent that they begin to interfere with daily life, deciding when to visit a doctor about memory loss isn’t always easy,” says Dean Knudson, M.D. and geriatric psychiatrist.

People experiencing cognitive degeneration have an especially hard time facing their symptoms. Denial is common, even among family members who are seeing the decline. It’s not uncommon for the symptoms to be denied or to go unrecognized until the problem becomes unavoidable.

The disease affects different people at different rates, and in different ways. Because Alzheimer’s responds to medications best in its early stages, the most critical issue is to detect the disease early and to diagnose it correctly.

Telephone Screening Provides Convenient, Simple Initial Assessment

If you are concerned that you or a loved one may be experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer’s, a new telephone screening provides a reliable way to assess cognitive level.

The Minnesota Cognitive Acuity Screen (MCAS) is a telephone interview conducted by a registered nurse who is trained to screen for cognitive problems. Designed and validated by a team of scientists during a two-year period, the MCAS has been proven to identify mild to moderate dementia more than 98 percent of the time. Based on its success in the long-term care insurance industry, Nation’s CareLink is now making the MCAS available to consumers.

“The MCAS is an excellent first course of action when loved ones experience memory problems,” says Knudson. Knudson helped develop the screening tool to alleviate or identify concerns, noting that many general care physicians had neither the time nor the training to properly screen patients for dementia or Alzheimer’s in the doctor’s office. “Early detection means greater opportunity to assess medication, long-term care and other options.”

MCAS questions relate to a person’s basic orientation, problem solving and reasoning skills. The interview takes only 15 minutes to complete and is administered over the phone. Interviewees can take the test in the privacy and comfort of their own home.

The MCAS consists of nine sub-categories:

  • Orientation
  • Attention
  • Delayed word recall
  • Comprehension
  • Repetition
  • Naming
  • Computation
  • Judgment
  • Verbal fluency

The depth of the MCAS is particularly important, since nearly 50 percent of cognitive impairments cannot be detected by memory testing alone.

“The MCAS provides a much needed bridge between expensive medical evaluations and the so-called ‘watchful waiting’ option,” adds Knudson. With the cost of a telephone screening at $95, MCAS offers an affordable and convenient alternative to expensive neurological testing.

Results are mailed within 24 hours after completion of the MCAS. The test provides objective information to act upon, allowing family members to consider medical, legal and financial care decisions. Participants are advised to contact their physician to discuss results.

The Warning Signs

Ann Ray, 75, of Peoria, Ill. had a family history of Alzheimer’s and recent bouts of forgetfulness. Ann wanted to know whether she had the disease, and she hadn’t talked to her physician in awhile. For her, the MCAS quickly and inexpensively provided peace of mind and the assurance of knowing she is simply aging normally.

Cognitive changes can often be subtle and hard to detect. The Alzheimer’s Association has identified the following possible warning signs and symptoms:

  • Memory loss that affects job skills. It’s normal to occasionally forget an assignment, deadline or colleague’s name, but frequent forgetfulness or unexplainable confusion at home or in the workplace may signal something wrong.
  • Difficulty performing familiar tasks. Busy people get distracted from time to time. For example, you might leave something on the stove too long or not remember to serve part of a meal. People with Alzheimer’s disease might prepare a meal and not only forget to serve it but also forget they made it.
  • Problems with language. Everyone has trouble finding the right word sometimes, but a person with Alzheimer’s disease may forget simple words or substitute inappropriate words, making his or her sentences difficult to understand.
  • Disorientation of time and place. It’s normal to momentarily forget the day of the week or what you need from the store. But people with Alzheimer’s disease can become lost on their own street, not knowing where they are, how they got there or how to get back home.
  • Poor or decreased judgment. Choosing not to bring a sweater or coat along on a chilly night is a common mistake. A person with Alzheimer’s, however, may dress inappropriately in more noticeable ways, wearing a bathrobe to the store or several blouses on a hot day.
  • Problems with abstract thinking. Balancing a checkbook can be challenging for many people, but for someone with Alzheimer’s disease, recognizing numbers or performing basic calculation may be impossible.
  • Misplacing things. Everyone temporarily misplaces a wallet or keys from time to time. A person with Alzheimer’s disease may put these and other items in inappropriate places – such as an iron in the freezer or a wristwatch in the sugar bowl – and then not recall how they got there.
  • Changes in mood or behavior. Everyone experiences a broad range of emotions – it’s part of being human. People with Alzheimer’s disease tend to exhibit more rapid mood swings for no apparent reason.
  • Changes in personality. People’s personalities may change somewhat as they age. But a person with Alzheimer’s can change dramatically, either suddenly or over a period of time. Someone who is generally easygoing may become angry, suspicious or fearful.
  • Loss of initiative. It’s normal to tire of housework, business activities or social obligations, but most people retain or eventually regain their interest. The person with Alzheimer’s disease may remain uninterested and uninvolved in many or all of his usual pursuits.

Peace of Mind

“By seeking early diagnosis and treatment, you put yourself in a better position to meet the challenges – and find solutions – for Alzheimer’s and dementia,” adds Knudson. “There is no reason to delay.”

Ann Ray was “tickled” to learn that her results showed she was unimpaired. “I was obsessing about Alzheimer’s. Now I feel a lot more confident. I have nothing to worry about.”

For more information about the Minnesota Cognitive Acuity Screen, contact the MCAS Center at (866) 884-6100 or visit www.cognitivescreening.com.

Courtesy of ARA Content