If you are 65 or older, and you have regular checkups on your heart, blood pressure and cholesterol, you are taking care of yourself quite well. However, experts suggest there may be another screening that is important for you: a memory screening.

The Naturally Aging Brain

As we age, it is natural to struggle when searching for the right words, recalling names, and multitasking. You might miss a monthly payment, lose things from time to time, or forget what day it is, only to remember it later. And you may find that it is more difficult to pay attention when watching T.V. or when people are talking to you.

When Should You Consider a Memory Screening?

When your ability to remember, learn and reason interferes with your quality of life, you should consider being evaluated. This degree of impairment is not a natural part of aging.

These problems can manifest themselves in many ways, such as:

  • Asking the same question over and over again
  • Problems taking care of monthly bills
  • Misplacing things frequently, and being unable to find them
  • Getting lost in places you know well
  • Losing track of the date or time of year
  • Having trouble following recipes or directions
  • Difficulty finding the words to maintain a conversation
  • Becoming more confused about time, people, and places
  • Eating poorly, not practicing good hygiene
  • Behaving unsafely

Seniors, family members and caregivers should understand that some of these symptoms are not necessarily due to Alzheimer’s disease or some other form of dementia. Depression, an infection, a sleep disorder or side effects from medications are some of the treatable causes for cognitive difficulties.

This is why it is important for you to see your physician sooner rather than later. If the condition is treatable, you can start receiving help right away. If it is dementia, there are medications that can slow its onset, and there will be more time to make plans for care.

Some older adults have a condition called mild cognitive impairment (MCI), meaning they have more memory or other brain-related problems than other people their age. They can normally take care of themselves. Please note that MCI could be an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease, but not everyone with MCI will develop the disease.

You should work with your physician who may want to track any cognitive changes every six to 12 months with a screening.

What is a Memory Screening?

Your physician may recommend a memory screening. This assessment tool helps determine if you are at risk for memory problems or losing other thinking skills. It is a simple and safe tool that indicates whether an additional check up by a qualified healthcare professional is recommended. It takes about 10 to 15 minutes to complete.

The screening is a face-to-face evaluation in a private setting with only the person being tested and the screener present. It involves a series of questions and/or tasks designed to test memory, language skills, thinking ability and other intellectual functions.

When completed, the screening administrator will review the results with you. The test administrator will suggest whether you should follow up with a physician or other clinician for more extensive testing.

Memory screenings are confidential. You will receive the screening results and bring them to a follow-up appointment with a healthcare professional, or to include in your medical file.

For more information on memory loss, visit Bethesda’s Alzheimer’s and Dementia blog.