Memory tests may also be limited in terms of detecting dementia in ethnic minorities, says Jed Levine, executive vice president of the Alzheimer's Association–New York City Chapter, an advocacy group. For individuals who speak English as a second language, not understanding some of the words on a questionnaire or not understanding the instructions may lead to a failed test even if there is no problem with the person's mind.
So what should you do if you've noticed a decline in your own memory or the cognitive abilities of a relative or friend? Seek a physician who has experience diagnosing dementia and who works with dementia patients—your primary care doctor, a geriatrician, geriatric psychologist or a neurologist, Miller says.
When assessing a patient for dementia, the physician will run a battery of tests—from questionnaires to brain scans. Most importantly, Miller notes, the physician will sit down with someone who knows the patient well—usually a spouse, adult, child or neighbor—and interview them about any changes that have taken place in the patient's memory that are beginning to interfere with daily life. Most often, people with dementia are unaware that they are changing, according to Miller, who says that a close relation can usually give the best indication of changes in a person's ability to remember things over time.
Failing a memory screening test, on the other hand, makes people scared about a disease they may but probably do not have, DeCarli says—and without a full physician's assessment, there is no reliable way of knowing whether someone has Alzheimer's or not.
This article is provided by Scienceline, a project of New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program.