A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Alzheimer’s screening and 3 ways to keep your mind sharp

Woman enjoying a cup of coffee - Alzheimer's vs aging

Though Alzheimer’s has no cure, you can take preventive measures to keep your mind sharp as you age.

“As a society, we’re getting older. Because Alzheimer’s disease increases with age, naturally, we will see an increase, ” said Dr. Jason Kanz, a Marshfield Clinic Health System neuropsychologist.

Alzheimer’s has no cure and while medications only slow down its progression for some people, others may see no improvements.

You can, however, take preventive measures to keep your mind sharp as you age.

Three tips to stay sharp

1. Regular exercise

“Generally, research shows an effective way of maintaining peak brain function is through regular physical activity,” Kanz said.

A sharp brain depends on operation of blood vessels. Exercise boosts blood flow through the body and the brain, which is essential for brain cells to operate effectively.

2. Cognitive activity

“Brain training” programs and apps have gained popularity in recent years, claiming to delay age-related memory loss and prevent against diseases like Alzheimer’s.

In January 2016, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) stated programs like Lumosity deceive customers, and there is not enough research to support these applications benefit memory.

Kanz said this report isn’t reason to decrease cognitive activity.

“Though there’s not enough research to prove such apps and games improve memory, there is evidence to suggest cognitive activity can be beneficial. Doing something out of the ordinary, getting your brain to think differently, can help keep your mind sharp.”

Play board games, learn a musical instrument or take up a new hobby.

3. Balanced nutrition

As with most illnesses, a well-balanced diet is a strong shield of prevention to Alzheimer’s.

“Good nutrition can go a long way,” he said. Here’s what a balanced diet with healthy portions looks like.

Screening for Alzheimer’s and memory loss

Doctors should ask about cognitive changes during Medicare wellness visits. Typically, this includes a mini mental status test, like asking a patient to name as many objects as they can think of.

Primary care doctors ask about history and symptoms as patients age, too.

“We use the AD8 to screen patients,” Kanz said. “If there is a change in two or more of these, it is associated with clinically significant impairment.”

The AD8, The Ascertain Dementia 8-item Informant Questionnaire, evaluates whether a person has:

  1. Problems with judgment (e.g., problems making decisions, bad financial decisions, problems with thinking)
  2. Less interest in hobbies/activities
  3. Repeats the same things over and over (questions, stories or statements)
  4. Trouble learning how to use a tool, appliance or gadget (e.g., VCR, computer, microwave, remote control
  5. Forgets correct month or year
  6. Trouble handling complicated financial affairs (e.g., balancing checkbook, income taxes, paying bills)
  7. Trouble remembering appointments
  8. Daily problems with thinking and/or memory

Doctors ask an informant or a patient to answer with “Yes, a change,” “No, no change” or “N/A, don’t know.”

Doctors begin asking these questions around ages 6o to 65. In this age range, nearly 1-2 percent of people show symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. By age 85, this increases to 50 percent. Some early memory loss develops into Alzheimer’s while other symptoms do not.

It is age-related memory loss or Alzheimer’s?

Use this chart to distinguish the difference.

“Just pay attention to your memory,” he said. “As we age, our brains become less efficient. That’s normal. But significant changes should be identified as soon as possible and shared with a doctor.”

Alzheimer's vs Aging

Not all forgetfulness is age-related.

Here are 10 signs of Alzheimer's help identify an early diagnosis.

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Signs of Alzheimer's

    Forgetting recently learned information.
    Challenging in planning like following a familiar recipe.
    Difficulty with tasks like driving to a familiar location.
    Forgetting where they are or how they got home.
    Thinking someone else is in the room when they pass a mirror.
    Stopping mid-conversation with no idea how to continue.
    Putting things in unusual places and accusing others of stealing.
    Giving large amounts of money to telemarketers.
    Trouble remembering how to complete a hobby.
    Easily upset especially when they are out of their comfort zone.

Mood changes with age may also be a sign of some other condition.
Consult a doctor is you observe changes.

Source: Alzheimer's Association*

For questions about Alzheimer’s screening, talk to a Marshfield Clinic Health System provider.

Schedule appointment Message your provider


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