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Memory Screening a Valuable Tool – August 28, 2015

Memory Screening a Valuable Tool - August 28, 2015
Marty Orgel is the Marketing and Communications Specialist at Whistlestop in San Rafael. Email him at

A lawyer, a writer and an accountant walk into a bar… This is not the start of a joke, but a story that illustrates how we can get more and more forgetful as we age.

Catching up with friends the other night, one casually mentioned he had run a red light. Not a big deal he thought. Especially, he said, because he was at the tail end of a stream of cars, and the opposing traffic signal had not turned green. But the lawyer was worried.

He stressed how running a red light should be taken very, very seriously. And not just from a safety angle. There’s no question we all start to forget things as we age, and the lawyer suggested our red light runner get both a medical and mental checkup to make sure everything was alright.

Just having the conversation made me worry. I forget things all the time and usually think my memory is getting worse. So I signed up for a comprehensive, free memory screening at Whistlestop, administered by Senior Access of Marin.

A Senior Access specialist gave me the test, called a Montreal Cognitive Assessment. It took half an hour and the first part featured a visuospatial exam, which the dictionary defines as my “ability to comprehend and conceptualize visual representations and spatial relationships in learning and performing a task.”

The easiest part of the test was when I was asked to name as many words as I could that began with the letter F. I was still blurting them out when I was told the time for this task was over. The hardest part was when I was asked to remember five words that I would be asked to repeat in about ten minutes. After hearing the words, we moved on to other activities. At the end of the ten minutes I remembered four of the words, but not the fifth. The examiner had to give me a hint before I remembered that fifth word. Hints aren’t good in a memory test. And I lost one point!

I did well enough to pass. My specialist explained how we all forget things over time. We are all overworked and multitasking. There’s no real cause for concern about forgetting where you left your keys, or even running a red light. Running a light is a bad practice all around, but it doesn’t mean you’re losing your memory. It’s more like you are distracted and need to concentrate more on driving when you get behind the wheel. A bigger concern, the specialist said, would be forgetting where you were going while driving.

After getting a clean bill of health on my memory screening, I turned to the medical community. I called Dr. Matt Willis, Marin County Public Health Officer. He was the keynote speaker at the recent Aging Healthy Symposium in San Rafael.

“It’s normal to forget things like where you put your keys,” Willis said. “It’s also important that people not rush to get an MRI when you find yourself losing those keys.”

Memory lapses in aging adults are normal, he said. Willis stressed the take-away here is to bring your concerns about memory loss to your healthcare providers, and let them partner with you about your future medical plans.

“Patients do not always bring their concerns to their doctor,” Willis acknowledged, “Memory loss among elders is a major concern in the medical community.”

Willis cited a Centers for Disease Control study of adults 60 and older, which found that only one in five people discuss memory loss with their doctor. Willis called that a “missed opportunity” in relationships between doctors and patients.

Two opportunities not to be missed are an upcoming memory screening and a memory wellness event at Whistlestop. They’re listed below. Put them on your calendar now.

So you don’t forget!

  • Brain Fitness Workshop – Fun and Games, Whistlestop and Senior Access, Thursday, Sept. 10, 9:30-10:30 a.m.
  • Memory Screenings – Whistlestop and Senior Access, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

For more information, call (415) 456-9063.

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