Losses of memory and thinking are not inevitable in aging. It is possible to live to age 100 with a vigorous mind. That said, age is still a substantial risk factor. Alzheimer’s disease, for example, is known to develop silently over years.

Brain health is top of mind for many aging adults and for good reason: cognitive loss destroys independence and often requires expensive care. By one estimate, the risk for dementia is 20% or more for persons past age 80. Early detection offers hope for treatment and decision-making for present and future interests. Organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association provide critical guidance.

Screening involves brief tests of memory and thinking. These tests are not difficult; their aim is to assess skills common to most adults. An intact brain can recall three to five items over a short period, for example. A high score suggests low risk for present decline – a good thing and well worth knowing. A low score does not mean dementia, simply that risk appears higher and more advanced evaluation is needed to know one way or another. More comprehensive and challenging tests can uncover patterns consistent with Alzheimer’s and other conditions, including reversible causes.

Dementia is scary – most of us know an afflicted person – and fear can lead to denial. Minor mental slips may be nothing. When they become a pattern, that’s the time to consider screening. A proactive approach offers knowledge, choice and hope for individuals and their families.

Tom Meuser

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