However, even given the limitations of the tests, the results might allay anxieties.
"The number one fear for older adults is memory loss," Shah said. "A lot of people live in fear that they are going to develop it, so when they start to see some changes in their memory, they become anxious," even though the changes could be within the realm of normal.
So if someone takes the test and passes with flying colors, "it can give the person peace of mind," Shah said. But there's a downside, he pointed out: Depending on the test, it might not be accurate and could be providing a false sense of security.
That's especially true if you're a person of above-average intelligence, said Dr. Gary Kennedy, director of geriatric psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. "If you are highly educated and had an intellectually challenging job, you may be too smart for the screen," he said. "You may have lost a degree of cognitive performance typical of Alzheimer's yet still perform well above the norm on the test," he explained.
"The screens have their limits," he said. Though highly intelligent people might get a false negative, test-takers who are below normal intelligence could get results that say they could have dementia when they're actually functioning within the same norms as they did earlier in life.
And if the results are inaccurate, Shah said, that can waste time and money. "You have to go through the anxiety of further testing and the extra cost, and being concerned that you have Alzheimer's when you don't," he said.
Everyone who has an abnormal screening test result should discuss the results with their physician, Shah said. If the screening test results show substantial memory problems -- and the finding is backed up through a physician's evaluation -- the advantage is earlier treatment.
Another important advantage of knowing about Alzheimer's in the early stages, Shah said, is th
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