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Dementia screenings encouraged as cases expected to dramatically increase

Posted at 10:14 PM, Jun 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-08 23:57:51-04

TAMPA, Fla. — When it comes to an early dementia diagnosis, Dr. Natalie Shnitser said forgetfulness is often one of the first signs.

"I forgot somebody's name, I forgot where my keys are, you know?" she said.

She adds that it's best to catch it then — before it starts to compromise your ability to take care of yourself.

"When you see a combination of loss of function that is already a disease," she said.

To help get more of these "early catches," doctors are encouraging folks to ask for routine brain health screenings at their annual appointments.

They say these screenings are of the utmost importance, especially when you consider that researchers predict dementia cases will likely triplein about 20 years.

"Don't leave things without taking care of them for too long," Dr. Shnitser said.

Initial tests are fairly quick. Dr. Schnitser said they'll often ask you to remember a sequence of words or to tell time.

"We ask our patients to draw the face of a clock with all the numbers on the clock and the hands of the clock showing [the] certain time that we tell them," she said.

If you fail those tests you'll eventually be referred to a neurologist who will do more testing — and they will likely do an MRI and blood work to rule out a stroke, tumor, or other potentially treatable diseases.

Right now, there is no cure for dementia just drugs to slow down the progression.

When it comes to reducing your risk, Dr. Schnitser said cutting back on sugar and smoking and getting more exercise is key especially if you like to dance.

"When you try to follow the moves and try to memorize the sequence and also you do it together with the music," she said. "It really puts it all back together and it makes your brain to function to the best of its ability."

The University of South Florida is currently doing a series of brain health studies.

It was awarded more than $44 million dollars last year to study whether computer testing can help reduce dementia risks in older adults.

And Wednesday, USF announced that it was given more than $3 million dollars to find out if blood testing could help catch early cases of Alzheimer's. They're looking for volunteers to help them with those studies. Click here to learn more.