News & Politics

Rite Aid's Alzheimer's Tests Can Trigger Needless Fear, Claim Doctors

Medical professionals say that false results will result in unwarranted fears for those that don't have the disease.

Photo Credit: CREATISTA/Shutterstock

The Rite Aid Pharmacy chain’s early-detection test for Alzheimer's is being hit with a wave of criticism by doctors who say that it may result in undue fear for consumers that don't have the disease. The chain is will begin marketing the tests later this month at more than 4,000 of its stores.

And although the tests are being promoted with the help of the non-profit Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, medical professionals say that such tests should only be done in a controlled environment and under the direction of a physician.

David Knopman, Professor of Neurology at the Mayo Clinic, told Bloomberg that “teaching someone how to perform a cognitive assessment is not a trivial manner. It takes some training and background in knowing about neurology.”

Knopman warns that false positives may be a result. Other cognitive issues, such as sleep deprivation or depression may trigger responses that falsely imply Alzheimer’s or dementia. Further, Knopman indicates that a busy store environment could create difficulties and distractions for consumers while they’re being tested.

Knopman sits on the Scientific Advisory Board of Alzheimer’s Association (not to be confused with the Alzheimer’s Foundation), which does not support the Rite Aid tests.

The tests, dubbed Mini-Cog, include a set of oral and written questions that take between 5 and 10 minutes to complete. The answers that consumers give are supposed to help screen whether they may be suffering from the early stages of the neurodegenerative disease. The tests are also used to screen for dementia. The tests will be administered during a series of events to be held later in the month that are focused on senior wellness.

The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America defends its test, saying that it can raise awareness and prompt seniors to see a doctor should the test produce positive results. They further say that if even inaccurate results can serve the greater purpose of raising disease awareness, as long as consumers understand that the test results are not definitive.

Alzheimer's is a progressive form of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking, and behavior. In its early stages, memory loss may be mild. Early symptoms may include getting confused in familiar places and taking longer than usual to complete normal daily tasks. While the disease progresses at different rates in different people, those with moderate Alzheimer's experience the fastest rate of decline.

Cliff Weathers is a former senior editor at AlterNet and served as a deputy editor at Consumer Reports. Twitter @cliffweathers.


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