Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Are You Getting Alzheimer's?

     I've applied to get long-term health insurance. It's not something I would necessarily recommend for everyone. It costs a lot of money. And the insurance company doesn't want to take you on as a policyholder if there could possibly be anything wrong with you.

     I'll address the whole question of long-term health insurance in my next post. But for right now, I want to focus on one aspect of the process -- the question of whether or not you're likely to get Alzheimer's or any other kind of dementia.

     The insurance company wants to know your entire medical history, including your family history. They're looking for any hereditary problems ... and Alzheimer's is one of them. Research shows that the cause of the disease is "most likely due to a combination of a variety of genetic and other factors," according to WebMD. Apparently there is a link between Alzheimer's and genes on four particular chromosomes, and the disease does have a tendency to run in families.

     In my case, my parents lived to age 89 and 91, and neither showed any signs of cognitive impairment. But the insurance company was not satisfied with just knowing that. They wanted to send a person over to my house to do a medical exam. Part of that exam is to take a test for Alzheimer's.

     To be honest, after a woman called and set up an appointment with me, I went online and checked out tests for Alzheimer's. Have you heard of the peanut butter test? Apparently Alzheimer's affects your sense of smell. A researcher had test subjects smell peanut butter, and found that people with early stage Alzheimer's had a dramatic difference in detecting odor between the left and right nostril -- the left nostril was impaired and did not detect the peanut butter odor nearly as well.

     I wasn't going to take the peanut butter test. But I did find several quick memory tests online at Test Your Memory for Alzheimer's (5 Best Memory Tests.) The first one was the most comprehensive and said it would take 15 minutes, although I did it in less than that. It's called the Self-Administered Gerocognitive Exam (SAGE) from Ohio State University. The test requires you to draw a geometric pattern, draw a clock with the time, name 12 fruits and vegetables. There is no answer sheet. You're supposed to show the results to someone who will intrepret the meaning of the test. But I got the clock right, and I had no trouble naming 12 vegetables. So I figured I was all right.

     There are other, shorter tests linked to the website. They all seem to want you to draw a clock. And so when the medical technician came to my house yesterday, I was all ready to draw a clock.

     She began by asking me my name and address and birthday and telephone number. And the date. (Being retired -- I hope you sympathize with me -- I don't always know what the date is!) But anyway, I suppose this was actually the beginning of the test. If you can't remember your address, you ain't getting long-term care insurance!

     Then she told me she would administer the test. And of course, there was no clock to draw. She wrote down ten words on a piece of paper. She showed them to me and read them out aloud. Then she held them up for me to study for about 20 seconds. She put the paper down and asked me to repeat as many as I could remember. I remembered six of the ten words:

cup
taste
sedentary
risk
learn
brand
. . . 

     Then she showed me the words again. She read them again, and let me study them for another 20 seconds. She put the paper down and again asked me to repeat them. This time I got all ten words. (Don't ask me to remember them all now -- I took the test yesterday morning, some 24 hours ago.)

     Then she proceeded with the rest of the test. She asked me to associate various animals. She'd name three animals -- giraffe, monkey, sheep -- and ask which one didn't belong. There is no right or wrong answer, she assured me. We went through the animals, about two dozen examples.

     Then she asked me to name all the animals in the test. Actually, I found that easier than remembering the ten random words. Maybe because I wasn't trynig so hard; or wasn't anxious about it, because I didn't know in advance I was supposed to remember them. Anyway, I got them all right.

     So, I don't know. I remembered six of those words. Is that enough for the insurance company to convince themselves that I'm not on the road to dementia? I get the results back in about three weeks. I'll let you know.

10 comments:

DJan said...

I think I'll pop over to that site and see how I'm doing. You always come up with interesting things for me to think about, Tom. From my vantage point, you have nothing to worry about; they would learn nothing from my parents, neither of whom made it out of their sixties. Heart disease is rampant in my family.

Stephen Hayes said...

I haven't discovered dementia in my family background but I'm terrible taking tests so I'd better start cramming.

Olga Hebert said...

Sometimes there are things I just don't want to know.
I probably won't be getting long term care insurance though.

Douglas said...

My mother had Alzheimer's. She didn't fit the profile; she had an active mind and kept busy inventing children's games, writing short stories, and dabbling in painting. She always had an excellent memory, which made he invaluable to her attorney boss. After she (and her boss) retired, she continued to work for that attorney on a part time basis... until about age 65 or 66 when she realized her memory was not what it once was and stopped working. Her doctor tested her, diagnosed her as "early onset" of Alzheimer's, and prescribed Aricept for it. This would not cure her but could be expected to slow the progress of the disease. She lived another 22 years as her world disappeared and I could only watch.

Much of that story is here:
http://boomer-musings.blogspot.com/2011/05/mothers-day-2011.html

Douglas said...

One more thought: I was told a number of years ago that:

If you forget where you put your car keys, or where you parked your car in the parking lot... you don't have Alzheimer's... but if you forget you own a car... you are in Big Trouble.

Meryl Baer said...

I took a test for Alzheimer's as part of a study at a local university. If the results indicated problems, they contacted you with the information for referral to your doctor. (I am fine! - for now.)
The tests included the ones you described, plus several more.
As an addition to Doug's comment - you don't have Alzheimer's if you forget where you put your keys. You are in trouble if you forget what keys are for - the purpose of keys.

Kirk said...

No one in my immediate family has had Alzheimers, but there's always a first time I guess. My memory for people's names has been poor for a long time, but otherwise it seems good. I may take that test later today,

schmidleysscribblins.com said...

I don't spend time thinking about it since I turned 71. These days,I have other concerns.

David Tal said...

You are a great writer with the passion of the patient and the compassion of the doctor combined in one venue. I am proud of what you are writing. This can really help those who suffers from this kind of disease.

Alzheimer specialist

Holly Murs said...

Hi Tom! Good luck with your LTCI application. It’s interesting to know that there are tests that can gauge a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. This is very informative so we decided to share to our readers and featured it in our Weekly Digest. You can read it here http://www.ltcoptions.com/weekly-digest-caregiving-challenges-ways-protect-elderly/. Thanks!