To detect memory loss early:
Ask all your patients over 55 about their memory functioning
Also ask a close relative, such as the spouse, if available. Consider the following issues:
- Memory complaints: Memory complaints are indicators of memory problems and are often signs of early cognitive loss. They should be taken seriously.
- Rationalization: Patients will often rationalize their memory loss by attributing it to normal aging. This is often a sign of a problem and should be identified.
- Family Concern: Family members’ concern for their loved one’s memory will often arise in the mild to moderate stages of memory-loss. These concerns should be taken very seriously because they are often a sign of progressed disease.
- Short Screen Insensitivity: Patients with early stage memory loss will often score normally on common physician administered screens. These screens are often insensitive to early stage memory loss. A loss of more than one or two points on a screen should be taken as a warning sign.
Identify physical risk factors for memory disease
These risk factors include:
- Family history of dementia
- Cardiovascular Disease
- Head Injury
- Changes in sleep and/or weight
If the patient is experiencing any of the issues discussed above, especially when combined with a physical risk factor, a referral to MARS Memory-Health Network for a diagnostic assessment is indicated.
Remember, early referral allows for early detection. Early detection provides the patient a distinct treatment advantage.
How to Treat Memory Loss:
Memory is a term used to describe a complex set of semi-independent brain systems that all have a similar function—to encode, store, and/or retrieve information. Memory systems are not localized to one area of the brain, rather they are located throughout the brain. Memory loss can arise from a variety of sources such as: hormone and/or vitamin imbalance, psychological states such as depression, trauma such as strokes, and diseases such as Alzheimer’s, among others. Each source of memory loss requires a different treatment.
The process of successfully treating memory loss is the same as that of any progressive disease:
Detecting and treating memory loss early will directly and positively influence the quality of life of your patient.
Indeed, the 1999 Surgeon General Report discusses the “…pronounced clinical advantages of early detection” of memory-loss. MARS Memory-Health Network specializes in working with physicians to identify and diagnose early stage memory loss.
Accurate differential diagnosis is a critical element for successful treatment.
Identifying the source of memory loss is difficult because many underlying causes can present in similar ways. MARS Memory-Health Network can help differentially diagnose most memory disorders, which includes helping to determine whether the issue is likely the result of a specific disease, trauma, psychological cause, etc.. Nevertheless, because different sources can masquerade as one another, it is the responsibility of the physician to follow-up and rule out other causes such as hormone (e.g., thyroid) and vitamin (e.g., thiamine, folate, etc.) imbalances, etc.. For a more detailed discussion, please be sure to read the MARS Memory-Health Diagnostic Assessment.
Treatment depends on the source of the memory loss.
For many causes of dementias, such as Alzheimer’s Disease, we recommend aggressive treatment, even at the early stage. Two classes of drugs are available: inhibitors and glutamate regulators. The acetylcholinesterase inhibitors work by slowing the breakdown of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that is necessary for memory formation. The glutamate receptor regulator, Namenda, protects neurons, which are lost during Alzheimer’s Disease. Research suggests that combining Namenda with an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor offers better results than any single drug.
Follow-up is critical when treating memory loss, because follow-up assessments provide objective data on the effectiveness of treatments and the progression of the disease.
Because the treatments available for disease related memory loss slow the progression of symptoms, patients cannot provide an accurate self-assessment of whether the drugs are working well. Indeed, compliance for these drugs is low because patients do not experience a distinct improvement in their memory. We recommend yearly follow-up assessments with the MARS Treatment Optimization assessment. This assessment provides objective data on the efficacy of the drug allowing physicians to optimize the treatment regime and promote compliance by the patients. For a more detailed discussion, please be sure to read MARS Optimize Treatment Assessment.