Widespread Lack Of Communication With Doctors About Memory Concerns
An overwhelming majority of Americans with memory concerns had not discussed this issue with their doctors despite recent visits, and an alarming number of them reported that they have other diseases that are risk factors for dementia, according to results of a survey released yesterday at a national caregiver conference hosted by the Alzheimer's Foundation of America (AFA).
These findings and others support the value of memory screenings, as well as the need to raise more awareness about the importance of being pro-active about memory problems, the AFA concluded.
"This is a call out to the nation. Individuals need to be pro-active about their own memory health, and healthcare professionals need to aggressively raise the issue and utilize available screening tools so that we can get a handle on this escalating crisis," said Eric J. Hall, AFA's chief executive officer.
The survey results were released as sites across the country ready to offer free, confidential memory screenings on National Memory Screening Day on November 13, an annual event initiated by AFA five years ago that coincides with National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month in November.
AFA announced the results t its National Concepts in Care Conference in Philadelphia for family caregivers and healthcare professionals.
The voluntary survey involved 1,902 people --- of an estimated 21,000 --- who underwent free memory screenings from coast-to-coast as part of AFA's National Memory Screening Day in 2006. The face-to-face screenings consist of a series of questions and tasks, and were administered by qualified healthcare professionals.
"The survey shows that we're effectively identifying people who need to be screened, and we're encouraging them to seek appropriate healthcare services," said Dr. Richard E. Powers, chairman of AFA's Medical Advisory Board and an associate professor in the Departments of Neurology, Pathology and Psychiatry at the University of Alabama (UAB) at Birmingham.
"This provides participants with an opportunity to identify either treatable causes of memory problems, such as vitamin deficiency or adverse medication reactions, or the opportunity to embark upon treatment involving medications for diseases like Alzheimer's disease. It also affords the opportunity to look for clinical trials that the National Institute on Aging is providing," he said.
Among the major findings, 73 percent of respondents indicated that they had concerns about their memory. However, while more than 80 percent had visited their primary care physician within the last six months, including 41 percent within the last month, fewer than 10 percent of those with self-identified memory problems had discussed the issue with the physician.
In addition, while more than half had spoken to their spouse or an adult child, almost one in five had not expressed their concerns to anyone.
Many individuals who underwent screenings noted that they have existing medical conditions: of the 963 respondents, 32 percent had diabetes, nearly 18 percent were obese, and almost 20 percent had depression.
"This suggests that many individuals who undergo screening may have risk factors for developing dementia," concluded Powers and Harvey Randall Griffith, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Neurology at UAB, who co-authored the survey summary.
The survey also found that about one-third of the respondents lived alone. "Recognition of cognitive impairment in individuals who reside alone is an important tool for preventing avoidable injuries or medication self-administration mistakes," the authors noted.
Further, 97 percent of individuals who were screened had not previously engaged in a memory screening, and 33 percent had never attended a health screening of any kind. The majority of respondents were Caucasian, mirroring published data suggesting that minority populations participate less frequently in screening programs.
A previous AFA survey found that Hispanic and African-American caregivers were significantly more likely to dismiss the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease as old age, compared to caregivers of other races.
Last year, some 21,000 people participated in memory screenings at more than 700 sites nationwide on National Memory Screening Day. An estimated 10 percent of those scored below normal.
AFA emphasizes that memory screenings are not used to diagnose any illness. Individuals who score poorly or who still have concerns are advised to consult with a qualified healthcare professional and, if necessary, get a complete medical examination.