Alzheimer’s Disease: Would You Want to Know?

Screening for memory loss.

Posted Nov 04, 2011

November is National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness month. Every year, to mark this event, the Alzheimer's Foundation of America sponsors free memory screening events at more than 2,000 sites across the country. This year, screenings will occur on Tuesday, November 15th.*

The University of Massachusetts, Amherst, is a host site for the memory screening event. We participate because it is an excellent public service. We also participate because the memory screening event aligns with our research mission to better understand the challenges of aging to promote better life quality.

But do memory screenings promote better quality of life? This question gives me pause. It troubles me and I am uncertain. On the one hand, there are data to suggest that early detection of Alzheimer's disease is beneficial to family members because it allows time to plan for the future. Information from early detection also allows family members to better understand the challenges faced by their loved one.

What concerns me is the benefit to the individual with memory impairment. Memory loss must be unsettling at best and downright terrifying at worst, particularly if one is able to fully comprehend what is happening. Indeed, many persons with failing memory do not have insight into their deficits but a substantial number are aware.

I have conducted hundreds of memory-disorder assessments with older adults. I deeply respect persons who can tolerate these assessments. Even the most unaware person, when confronted with their inability to remember information in an assessment, will, in that moment, concede their memory is not as strong as before. Insight is rarely completely lost, at least not in early stages of Alzheimer's disease.

So why do persons engage in these unsettling, stressful, and at times, humiliating assessments? There is no cure for Alzheimer's disease and treatments are of questionable efficacy. Is this a case when ignorance truly is bliss?

Despite my doubts and hesitations, I promote memory screenings. Knowledge is powerful. The majority of older adults may agree with me. A recent article published by the AARP suggested that most older adults indeed would want to know about early memory loss.

It is a brave and bold step to pursue a memory assessment. As a researcher and a clinician, I am humbled by these actions. At my core, I deeply, sincerely hope that memory assessments do indeed promote better life quality, not just for family members but for the brave souls who decided to face their fears and learn more about themselves.

*To find a memory screening site near you, or for more information, please go to or call 866-AFA-8484

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