According to Dr. James Cheverie, a family physician in the new health center, people who know they have memory loss are often the most personable, because they try to patch up their mental gaps with gregarity.
“They’re often very charming,” he said. “They’ll try to get around the memory loss.”
Gertrude Greenstein, of Revere, was one such patient.
Full of witty repartee and quips about everything from the weather to wetting her pants, she came in for the free screening with her daughter. She said her daughter encouraged her to attend because her ability to recall dates and small events has slipped in recent years.
“She knows (my memory is failing), and so do I,” said Greenstein, who is considering a prescription to delay further memory loss.
“Those medicines do exist,” said Dr. Cheverie, who assessed Greenstein and then wrote her primary care physician a note recommending she explore medication options based on her score on the memory test.
“If you ask me what I ate yesterday, I can’t remember,” said Greenstein, 85, who said she often forgets things like the date, which she said “no longer matters” in her daily life as a retired person who cares for her grandchildren here and there.
When she couldn’t regurgitate a series of short, one-syllable words the doctor read to her at the beginning of her interview – remember ball, flag and tree? – she changed from her joke-a-minute conversation style to a more serious reflection of the test.
“You asked me that five minutes ago,” she told the doctor. “And I couldn’t remember. That upsets me, it really does.”
Dr. Cheverie said most people experience mild forgetfulness as they age, but true memory loss affects a person’s ability to drive a car, use money or follow directions. He said those with serious memory loss may get lost, ask the same questions over and over, or get confused about places and people they’ve seen.
He said the memory loss screening can help seniors and their loved ones decide whether increased mental activity, visits with friends or even a prescription – though some medicines may actually contribute to memory problems if patients have a poor reaction to them – might help elders improve memory and get more out of life.
“I think this is just as important as some of the other screenings we do, because many people won’t bring themselves in for a screening,” he said. “It’s a public service, and we’re trying to grow the practice and meet people in the community.”
The doctors of Malden Family Health Center are accepting new patients. If you are concerned about memory loss or just need to see a physician for a check-up, call the office at 781-338-7400.
To locate services for seniors experiencing health problems, including memory loss, visit www.eldercare.gov.