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Alzheimer’s Screenings for All

Back in 1983 when President Ronald Reagan designated November as Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, less than two million people had the disease.  Today there are more than five million Americans living with Alzheimer’s and it is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, which President Reagan died from himself in 2004, but there are many ways that awareness of the disease can aid those who are living with it. Screenings for Alzheimer’s disease have greatly improved in recent years and become more widely available to the public, making the screenings simple and hassle-free.


National Memory Screening day takes place on Tues., Nov. 19.

“There are benefits to early detection,” said Carol Steinberg, President of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. “It’s important to plan for the future.  While someone’s verbal skills are still intact they can express their end-of-life care wishes to loved ones. Also, there are behavioral interventions to preserve the quality of life and some medications that might help with symptoms in the early stages.” Steinberg added that an early diagnosis eases the burden on the family caregiver too, so that they do not have to make care or end-of-life decisions for their loved one without their input.

To this end, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America started National Memory Screening Day to encourage people to start a discussion about Alzheimer’s and dementia. “This is not a diagnosis by any means,” Steinberg said or the screening tests. This year National Memory Screening day takes place on Tues., Nov. 19.

This annual event takes place at about 2,500 community sites across the country and screenings are done by a qualified health care professional. “We don’t mandate which screening tool they use, but we do suggest tools for them to use,” she said. “The screening is done in a face-to-face interview that takes about five minutes.” The tool that is most widely used is the General Practitioner assessment of Cognition (GPCOG), which is the same one preferred by Homewatch CareGivers.

Judy Yaffe, owner of Homewatch CareGivers serving West Springfield and Northampton in Massachusetts, has been using the GPCOG in her community too. “It is better off to use with people in the beginning to mid-range levels of dementia,” Yaffe said. Although she said that the 7-question screening test is simple, it is done by professionals and not family members.

Since she started working with the screening tests, Yaffe has found it useful in other ways too, not just for raising a red flag about Alzheimer’s or other dementia. “We had one gentleman who had no sight on his left side and no one had picked up on it,” she explained. “He shouldn’t be driving! We worked with him and his family to stop him from driving. Another young woman did the screening test and after taking the results to her doctor discovered she had a brain tumor that could have gone into an aneurysm.”

Yaffe shared these stories to let people who might fear a screening test know that they could learn of a curable problem for their memory lapses. “It can validate that people are cognitively OK, there is just some natural forgetfulness,” she said. There are many possible causes for memory lapses—including nutritional and hormonal imbalances, reaction to medication, and other illnesses.

The Alzheimer’s Association offers an online tool to check for warning signs of dementia, and also touts the benefits of early detection of the disease. They have a 24/7 helpline for people to call in and discuss their concerns about a loved one.

For those who take the GPCOG or another Alzheimer’s screening test and have mixed results, experts advise taking the test to their doctor. The Affordable Care Act includes a provision for an annual wellness visit for those with Medicare, and with this visit detection of possible cognitive impairment. However, Steinberg and other experts say that a discussion about memory concerns is not always taking place and the screening test results can be an excellent way to jumpstart the conversation.

“It’s really important for people to address their memory concerns,” Steinberg said. “There might be other issues that can be cured and people can take steps to improve their quality of life.”

Heather Snyder, PhD, Director of Medical and Scientific Operations at the Alzheimer’s Association, said that community screenings for Alzheimer’s can be useful in encouraging people to volunteer for further study about the disease. “Volunteers are needed for clinical trials, surveys and studies,” she said. “We need a better understanding of these early cognitive changes and a lot of that is still in the research stage.”

Help for a Person Living with COPD

The condition affects more than 13 million people in the U.S., making it difficult for them to breathe. Several different diseases cause Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), but there is no cure.

To help a caregiver and the person living with COPD, we assembled seven useful tips that can increase safety and limit frustrations.

Click here to read our seven tips for a person living with COPD.

Help for Families Facing a Tough Reality

The misconception is that hospice care means that death is imminent, but Mandy Merkel says that is not the case.

Merkel is a certified geriatric care manager in the Atlanta area. She helps guide families and advise them on their options when a loved one starts to decline. However, hospice does not have to be the end.

“I’ve had people come off of hospice because they’ve done so well. You don’t have to stay there until you die,” Merkel said.

She believes families start thinking about hospice when they have a specific answer to a question about their loved one’s care.

Click here to read more about that question.

Joint Replacement Surgery: The Road to Recovery

When the cartilage within joints becomes worn down where the bone is rubbing on bone, doctors may recommend surgery. The recovery from this type of procedure can be difficult and intimidating, but it is not something that has to be done alone.

Caregivers can help keep a person safe and comfortable while they recover at home in the days following a procedure.

Click here for more information about recovering from a joint replacement surgery.

Stepchildren Challenged with New Family Dynamics

Many stepchildren now try to care for parents who were not their original father or mother. Sometimes, like in Emma’s case, relationships can be tense and even nasty.

Emma’s father died when she was young and her mother then married Edward. His three daughters did not become close with Emma and her four siblings. Now, three decades later, the tension continues. It was exacerbated when Emma’s mother died in 2006.

“When she passed, Edward was devastated. We took care of him. All my nieces and nephews call him grandpa,” Emma said.

Problems began when Edward decided to move to an assisted living community in Massachusetts where he, Emma, and her siblings all live.

Read more of Emma’s story and ideas from a licensed clinical social worker on what families can do to avoid similar problems.