The Wall Street Journal Tuesday made a good case for the early testing of patients for dementia, even though there is no cure, so to speak, for the decline in brain function as one ages.
The story points out that whether older people should be screened for dementia has been much debated by mental health experts. Those who oppose it argue that since there is no drug or treatment to halt dementia’s progression, it may only stigmatize, depress and cause anxiety for anyone diagnosed with it.
But the “push” now, as The Journal described it, is to test early.
“Identifying the problem at a milder level of impairment — and enacting a care regimen — may stave off a crisis that can disrupt patients’ lives, prevent them from putting their affairs in order and level extreme burdens on caregivers,” The Journal wrote.
Medicare, under health care reform, will now cover annual visits that can include tests for cognitive impairment. And doctors have more guidance now about how to detect such impairment during checkups, according to The Journal.
That’s because the Alzheimer’s Association has developed guides for assessing it, such as asking patients and their family members about whether memory loss is getting worse. And there are cognitive tests that doctors can administer in less than five minutes, The Journal reported.
There are also now care-management programs for those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, including one developed at the Indiana University Center for Aging Research. It is called the Healthy Aging Program.
Under this program, primary-care doctors, social workers and nurse practitioners act as a team to help the patient and his or her family manage the dementia. That includes taking patients off medications that can hurt older brains, and creating a regimen for the patient to follow to slow down the progression of the illness, according to The Journal.
In the case of one woman diagnosed with dementia, as part of her program she was advised to do an hour of mental brain exercises a day and to perform at least 15 minutes of moderate to intense exercise, The Journal reported.
This approach to treating dementia, it seems to me, makes a lot of sense. It lessens the burden on not only the patient, but the patient’s caregivers.