Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Value of Memory Screenings

Most people with dementia remain undiagnosed by their primary care providers, and families often fail to recognize the significance of early cognitive symptoms. In response, there has been a growing interest in screenings for memory problems. National Memory Screening Day is an annual initiative spearheaded by the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA), in collaboration with community organizations that promotes early detection of memory problems as well as Alzheimer's disease and related illnesses, and encourages appropriate intervention. By popular demand, The Dale Association is again participating in a day of confidential memory screenings, as well as follow-up resources and information about dementia and successful aging. These screenings are not a diagnosis, but can suggest whether a medical evaluation would be beneficial. Extensive study has indicated that these screenings are of value to individuals who participate in them. A screening can check a person’s memory and other thinking skills. It can indicate if someone might benefit from a more complete medical visit. It is important to identify the disease or problem that is causing memory loss. Some memory problems can be readily treated, such as those caused by vitamin deficiencies or thyroid problems. Other memory problems might result from causes that are not currently reversible, such as Alzheimer’s disease. In general, the earlier the diagnosis, the easiest it is to treat one of these conditions. Unfortunately, with an issue as sensitive as Alzheimer’s disease and related illnesses, there is often misinformation. AFA has provided us with some facts to address some of the more common misconceptions about memory screening and National Memory Screening Day. AFA believes that all individuals should be empowered to make informed decisions to better manage their own health, not discouraged from screening based on misinformation. Memory screenings are a significant first step toward finding out if a person may have a memory problem. Memory problems could be caused by Alzheimer’s disease or other medical conditions. Who should be screened? Memory screenings make sense for anyone concerned about memory loss or experiencing warning signs of dementia; whose family and friends have noticed changes in them; or who believe they are at risk due to a family history of Alzheimer’s disease or a related illness. Screenings are also appropriate for anyone who does not have a concern right now, but who wants to see how their memory is now and for future comparisons. Questions to ask: Am I becoming for forgetful? Do I have trouble concentrating? Do I have trouble performing familiar tasks? Do I have trouble recalling words or names in conversation? Do I sometimes forget where I am or where I am going? Am I misplacing things more often? Have family or friends told me that I repeating questions or saying the same thing over and over again? Have I become lost when walking or driving? Have my family or friends noticed changes in my mood, behavior, personality or desire to do things? According to a recent survey by Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, 64% of individuals who responded to the study thought the behavioral symptoms (such as, irritability, anxiety) of the people they were caring for were a normal part of aging prior to their diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. 67% of these caregivers stated that these thoughts delayed the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging, but age is the greatest risk factor. The number of people with the disease doubles for every five-year age interval beyond 65. Early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia is critical. It allows the individual and their family to learn and plan better for the future. I hope that as you read this article, you will take advantage of the free screening for yourself or somebody you care about (or both). The face-to-face screening takes place in a private setting. The person who administers the screening reviews the results with the person who is screened, and suggests that those with abnormal scores and those with normal scores but who still have concerns follow up with a physician or other healthcare professional. The person who is screened receives the screening results to bring to his or her healthcare professional, as well as materials with information about memory issues and questions to ask healthcare professionals. Information about successful aging, including the benefits of proper diet, physical exercise, mental stimulation, socialization and stress management will also be available. The memory screening tests made available to participating sites (including The Dale Association) are validated for effectiveness. It is important to keep in mind that NO medical test, whether for screening or for diagnosis, is 100% accurate and any test can produce “false positive” or “false negative” results. However, the memory screening test that AFA provides for National Memory Screening Day demonstrates 80 – 90% or higher probability of true positives and probability of true negatives in reviewed studies – similar to other established screening tests such as a mammography and Pap smear. Please help spread the word about Memory Screening Day on November 21, 2013 from 1 – 4 pm. Appointments are now being accepted for a free memory screening; please call 433-1886 to reserve your spot.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Medicare Changes in 2014

Medicare's annual open enrollment period starts October 15th and ends December 7th. This is the time of year when everyone with Medicare can join or change their health and prescription drug plans for 2014. This includes anyone using traditional Medicare, Medicare Advantage and prescription drug coverage. Depending on our needs, you can switch coverage from original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan or vice versa. You can also switch your Part D plan, which pays for medications. Any changes you make will take effect January 1st. Medicare Advantage participants should review plan changes as soon as they receive information from their providers. Changes could include costs such as premiums, deductibles and co-pays, as well as changes to covered procedures, tests and other provisions. Some plans may be eliminated, requiring enrollees to choose a new plan or default to traditional Medicare Part B. Enrollment in Medicare Advantage plans continues to increase, with more Medicare beneficiaries choosing these plans in recent years. Medicare beneficiaries should receive their Annual Notice of Change (ANOC) and Evidence of Coverage (EOC) from their existing Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D plan providers. Take time to review the information you receive and look at all of your Medicare options; you may find more affordable coverage through a different combination of plans -- whether Medicare Advantage or traditional Medicare with Part D and Medigap plans. Keep in mind that you may see a lot of ads for Medicare plans, but there could be a plan that's perfect for you that isn't getting a lot of attention with ads and mailers. This is an important opportunity to make sure you are getting the most from your Medicare benefits. Every year, Medicare plans change and so do your needs. It’s worth the time to shop around to see if the coverage is still the best for your situation. A free “Understanding Medicare Plan Choices for 2014” meeting is scheduled for October 31, 2013 at 10:00am at The Dale Association, 33 Ontario Street, Lockport. Learn about the changes to Medicare plans, get updates about enrollment, NYS EPIC, Medicare Part D and the “Extra Help” Low Income Subsidy Program. Representatives from Niagara County Office for the Aging, NYS EPIC, and Medicare Advantage Plan Representatives will be present to provide enrollment assistance and to answer questions.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Super Agers

They’re age 80 and older, yet they have the memory and brain power of people in their 50s. So what’s their secret? That’s what researchers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine are trying to figure out. A new study found that this elite group of elderly — or SuperAgers, as researchers call them — have brains that appear as young as people in the prime of middle-age. In fact, one brain region of this SuperAger group was even bigger and healthier than a person’s in midlife. The senior study author wanted to know what was different about the brains of people in their 80s who were super-sharp cognitively. For the study, participants in their 80s and older were screened. Only 10 percent of those who considered themselves to have “outstanding memories,” made the cut. Eventually, 12 SuperAgers, plus a control group of 10 normally aging adults with an average age of 83, were chosen, as well as 14 middle-aged participants, average age 58. Looking at three-dimensional MRI scans, researchers were surprised by the remarkable appearance of the SuperAgers’ cortex – that is the portion of the brain responsible for memory, attention and other thinking abilities. While the cortex had begun to thin among normally aging people in their 80s, the SuperAger group had a thick, healthy cortex similar to adults 20 or 30 years younger. Plus, in another brain region important for memory, the SuperAgers’ was actually thicker than those age 50 to 65. Researchers’ ultimate goal is to unlock the secret behind why some people are protected against the deterioration of memory and diminished brain cells that typically accompanies aging. She hopes her discoveries can help protect others from memory loss or even Alzheimer’s disease. Many scientists study what’s wrong with the brain, but maybe we can ultimately help Alzheimer’s patients by figuring out what goes right in the brains of SuperAgers.