Bonn, Germany (dpa) – Screening for Alzheimer’s disease isn’t useful for people lacking symptoms, says a German psychiatrist, pointing out that current tests are unable to forecast its occurrence in healthy individuals.
The only exception, according to Frank Jessen, a member of the German Association for Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, is when Alzheimer’s has developed at a relatively young age several times in a person’s family line, which suggests an inherited form of the disease.
These people, Jessen said, would do well to first acquaint themselves with screening’s benefits and drawbacks.
Screening for Alzheimer’s, a disease that progressively destroys memory and other important mental functions and is the most common cause of dementia, is advisable when even minor symptoms such as increasing forgetfulness or confusion are present.
While a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is stressful since the disease has no cure, Jensen said, early detection enables patients to make lifestyle changes – more exercise and intellectual stimulation along with a healthier diet – that could slow or halt the advance of dementia.
As long as symptoms are still minor, patients can also put their time to best use, for example by fulfilling lifelong dreams and making important arrangements such as appointing a health-care proxy and giving advance health care directives.
There’s another reason to screen for Alzheimer’s when possible symptoms arise: Their cause could be a completely different disorder that may be highly treatable if detected early.
Memory lapses can be a result of depression. And thyroid hypofunction, vitamin B12 or folic acid deficiencies as well as diseases of the kidneys, liver and pancreas show some symptoms similar to dementia.