MPR asked the question: who is making your community better?

This year at the State Fair, we provided 2,200 free memory screenings this year at the Minnesota State Fair. People have mixed feelings about taking a memory screen. Fifty percent of the public told us they didn’t want to know even if they do have memory loss related to dementia. The other half, people who have been affected in some way by Alzheimer’s or dementia, said they wished they would have known to get checked sooner, and thanked us for being at the fair.

One family in particular that had a memory screening during the fair decided to take our advice and have follow up with their physician after their mother scored poorly on the memory screen. Two days later, the daughter returned to our booth to thank us for being at the fair. She said, had we not been there, she never would have known her mother was having difficulties as it was not something that was discussed openly nor something she had detected on her own. This is very common among children with aging parents. During the two days after the screening, the daughter took her mother to the doctor and the doctor agreed that further testing and screening was recommended. Both the daughter and the doctor were very glad they had taken the time to take the screening as the mother would now receive the appropriate care she needed.

We had another gentleman stop by, who stated he had been having memory concerns for several months, and every time he spoke to his family and coworkers about it, they would pass it off as normal aging. After meeting with us, he realized the symptoms he described were in fact something he should talk with his doctor about. Before leaving, he thanked us for being at the fair. He said he felt better now that he had someone that seemed to understand and validate what he had been experiencing, and planned to schedule a doctor’s visit.

Face-to-face memory screenings average three minutes and consist of questions and tasks to assess memory. HealthStar and the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America encourage screenings for adults with memory concerns, a family history of Alzheimer’s disease, and those who want to check their memory now and have the baseline results for future comparison. Unfortunately, there’s a large gap in education. There are many reasons for memory loss that are treatable such as vitamin deficiency, thyroid issues, changes in medication, stress, and many others. Once the public was made aware during our time at the fair that there might be a treatable cause, they were more at ease, and we saw a big jump in the number of people deciding to take the memory screen. We want to raise public awareness and take the fear out of being screened. Early diagnosis and treatment can substantially help during early onset, whereas treatment in later stages of the disease aren’t as beneficial.

For many with Alzheimer’s or dementia, they will spend several years at home under the care of a family member or other caregiver before a move to a higher level nursing facility is required. The behaviors that accompany this disease can be very overwhelming and many families do not have the financial means to cover some of the costs of care, so they suffer through the journey alone, and often alienated from friends and family who eventually pull away. Changes in healthcare, due to high prevalence of the disease, allow our nursing experts to provide training, education and non-pharmacologic behavior assistance in the home to families and caregivers, which is 100 percent covered by traditional Medicare and most insurance plans. The public as well as many healthcare professionals are not aware of this available resource. It is even available to those under the age of 65, if they’ve been diagnosed by a doctor.

HealthStar uses the free memory screenings as a way to educate the public and provide families with lots of additional resources after a diagnosis. HealthStar also provides a free memory café, which is a social group for families and the person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Families share their successes and challenges, and gain much needed support. Our biggest concern is that the public isn’t aware that this type of care is available for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, and that it is covered by insurance.

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