The Alzheimer's Association (AA) advocates efforts that increase early detection and diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease, a degenerative fatal disease that currently affects approximately 5.3 million Americans.
Alzheimer's is a very complex disease and unfortunately there is no quick and accurate test to determine whether a person has Alzheimer's disease. This is partly why the AA does not support community-based memory screening in general populations. Another reason is the term, "memory screening" generally refers to the use of a brief mental status test that gives a numerical score to indicate the presence or absence of cognitive impairment.
Often these brief mental tests result in "false positives" and "false negatives." False positives occur when a person fails or scores poorly on a test but does not have Alzheimer's disease or another dementia. This happens most often among ethnic minorities, persons for whom English is a second language and persons with low educational level.
False negatives occur when a person passes or scores well on a test but actually does have Alzheimer's disease or another dementia. This happens most often for persons with a high educational level.
The AA strongly believes any procedure that uses a score on a brief mental status test to indicate presence or absence of cognitive impairment should only be used in a physician office or medical clinic and not in non-medical, community settings, especially when the test is conducted by individuals without proper training.
Accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease requires a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation by a qualified physician that should include: a thorough review of a person's medical history, physical and neurological exams, laboratory tests and imaging tests. Interviews with family members or close friends about changes in cognitive functioning and behavior should also be conducted whenever possible. A diagnostic evaluation based on all of these elements provides the best possible assurance that the resulting diagnosis will be accurate and the appropriate follow up will be conducted.