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University of South Florida

Early Detection of Memory Loss–Alzheimer’s

So many of us have paused, struggling to remember a name or find our keys.

But when is this an early sign of a significant memory problem?

“Most patients notice forgetfulness or difficulty doing things they’ve always done. There is a difference between regular aging and Alzheimer’s,” said Dr. Amanda Smith, Medical Director and Director of Clinical Research for USF Health’s Byrd Alzheimer’s Center.

With a good clinical interview, cognitive testing, labs, and imaging, the accuracy of Alzheimer’s diagnosis is very high. “There are advantages to catching it early. We can keep patients independent longer and slow down the loss of memory,“ Dr. Smith explained in our recent Facebook Live.

Are you at risk for developing an early form of Alzheimer’s disease?

“For patients who develop Alzheimer’s at a younger age (in their 40’s or 50’s), considered early onset, there is usually a genetic connection,” she said. “It’s important to share a detailed family history during your initial evaluation.”

Other risk factors?

– Research has found that patients who have experienced a head injury are more prone to developing Alzheimer’s disease.
– Heart health is directly linked to brain health, so having chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes can contribute to developing Alzheimer’s.

Diagnostic Imaging of the Brain (PET) for Early Detection

Dr. Smith shared that “In the last few years, the imaging of amyloid with a brain PET scan is now available as a diagnostic tool for people showing signs of Alzheimer’s.”

Although this scan is expensive and not typically covered by insurance, some choose to have this new scan to confirm their diagnosis. In addition, some research studies are enrolling people without memory concerns to identify those who have amyloid plaque buildup (which starts 10-20 years before memory problems begin) to test the effectiveness of new medicines for removing the plaque and preventing the development of or delaying dementia. USF Health’s Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute, as a leader in the region in Alzheimer’s research has clinical trials for the early onset of Alzheimer’s and is pioneering new medical interventions.

Besides access to more clinical trials and treatment options, amyloid PET scans can offer Alzheimer’s patients an answer to their concern, help decrease anxiety, and give patients the chance to start making healthier choices, which can contribute to cognitive ability improvement.

Annual Memory Screening

Most of us recognize the benefits of yearly physical exams, dental visits and vision tests. But memory screenings are also a benefit, especially for older adults. The early detection of memory problems is extremely valuable. If you are not sure if you need a formal medical evaluation of your memory, the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer’s Center offers a free confidential 30-minute memory screening in both English and Spanish. A memory screening cannot diagnose a disease but it can help determine if further evaluation by a medical professional is needed.

If you would like to schedule a memory screening at USF Health’s Byrd Alzheimer’s Center, please call (813) 396-0722.

Ways to Keep Sharp

Dr. Smith offers these ways to “light up different parts of your brain and keep you sharp.”

– Physical activity is the #1 thing to do. It improves your circulation to your brain.
– Engage in a variety of stimulating activities. You wouldn’t go to the gym and just use one machine; try different activities to stimulate different areas of your mind.
– Keep your mind active by learning a variety of new things, such as playing a new instrument or learning a new language.
– Spend time with other people. Social interaction helps keep memory loss at bay.
– Adopt a Mediterranean-type diet: lower in saturated fats, higher in green leafy vegetables, fruits, and fish.
– Avoid smoking, wear helmets and seatbelts, and limit alcohol to no more than two drinks per day.

Written By: Kathleen Rogers

Quotes from Facebook Live with Dr. Amanda Smith, Hosted by: Lisa Balsera and Michelle Young

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