OBJECTIVES: To investigate whether a large-scale memory-screening program for community-dwelling elders would be successful in identifying individuals with a high probability of dementia in need of further assessment that would result in the earlier diagnosis of dementia.
DESIGN: A descriptive study of experience with a volunteer sample.
SETTING: Ten sites (e.g., senior centers, churches, clinics) throughout New England on October 29, 1999.
PARTICIPANTS: Trained volunteer clinicians evaluated 497 community-dwelling individuals on the screening day. An additional 162 subjects who could not be accommodated on that day were subsequently screened at local sites by appointment during the following month.
MEASUREMENTS: Subjects participated in a standardized format consisting of an educational lecture, followed by individual screenings with the 7-minute screen (7MS) with locally trained staff. Subjects were informed immediately of test results and counseled regarding follow-up options. A survey was conducted with these subjects and their primary care physicians over the following year.
RESULTS: Because the groups tested at different times were not statistically different in terms of demographics, they were combined in the analysis. One hundred ten (16.7% of all screened) individuals received high/retest scores on the 7MS. They were advised to seek diagnostic evaluation and encouraged to have results sent to their primary care physicians (PCPs). Of those followed up, 64% reported that they followed up the screening results with their PCP. More than one-third (38%) of participants with a high/retest score on the 7MS had inconclusive findings on follow-up or were awaiting further diagnostic evaluation. Of those for whom follow-up data were available, 10 (9%) were diagnosed with probable Alzheimer's disease (AD), and an additional nine (8%) who had previous diagnoses of AD were correctly identified by the 7MS. Anecdotally, feedback from participants indicated a high level of satisfaction with the process. Participants reported that the educational talk and the possibility of early detection were the most helpful components of the screening program. Moreover, most individuals surveyed in follow-up would recommend the program to a friend or family member.
CONCLUSION: A follow-up survey of participants and their physicians supported the conclusion that a community memory-screening program might detect individuals who were previously unknown to have cognitive problems. Furthermore, such a program was highly acceptable to participants. The small number of individuals diagnosed with dementia as a result of the screening program indicates that this form of screening may be inefficient as performed. Multiple obstacles to seeking follow-up care were identified and would need to be addressed in larger-scale programs to make this a worthwhile endeavor. The experience gained in this memory screening program might aid in the planning of better programs, which will be essential if early diagnosis is to keep pace with the growth of treatments for dementia.
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