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Healthwise Maui

Q: My family has a history of heart disease. Is there a test that can tell me if I’m at risk for stroke?

Dr. Robert Connaughton, vascular surgeon, Maui Health: Yes. A carotid ultrasound is a painless, noninvasive procedure that uses sound waves to make an image of your carotid artery and check for signs of narrowing. The carotid artery is the blood vessel that moves blood to your brain. When it gets hardened or clogged with plaque, it can increase your risk of stroke.

Not everyone needs carotid screening, but if you have other risk factors — like if you’re a smoker over age 50, if you have a history of heart disease, or if you’re over age 65 — it can help your doctor spot a potential blockage early so it can be treated.

Q: My mother is showing some early signs of Alzheimer’s and a friend asked if anyone had suggested a “brief cognitive assessment.” What kind of test is this and can we (myself and/or my mom) request it or does her physician need to be the one to determine a need for it? I would love more information on this, so I can prepare for this discussion with my mom.

Christine Spencer, Maui County regional coordinator, Alzheimer’s Association Aloha Chapter: A brief cognitive assessment is a short evaluation that checks your brain for any cognitive impairments. There are several ways that a health care provider can administer a brief cognitive assessment. Questions and concerns about cognitive functioning may be discussed, a short verbal or written test may be conducted, or they may directly observe interactions. It is not a fully diagnostic workup, but this brief assessment is crucial for early detection and diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. It’s normal to feel nervous about this sometimes-sensitive topic but there are steps you and your mom can take to have a productive conversation with her doctor.

If you have concerns about her thinking or memory, do not hesitate to initiate a conversation. You do not need to wait until her physician brings it up. According to this year’s Alzheimer’s Association Facts and Figures report, a recent survey conducted found a disconnect between seniors and primary care physicians regarding who they believe is responsible for initiating a brief cognitive assessment. A large majority of seniors expect their physicians to recommend a cognitive assessment as needed, but physicians are waiting for seniors to report symptoms or concerns.

Visit alz.org for more information about the brief cognitive assessment as well as a checklist to prepare for the discussion with her doctor. For additional resources or to join an Alzheimer’s Association class or weekly/monthly support group on Maui, call (808) 591-2771, ext. 8235. Support groups are held on an ongoing basis at Maui Memorial Medical Center and the next one takes place from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. July 16.

* Physicians, providers and administrative staff who practice at Maui Health System hospitals and clinics answer questions from the public in “Healthwise Maui,” which appears on Thursdays. Maui Health System operates Maui Memorial Medical Center, Maui Memorial Medical Center Outpatient Clinic, Kula Hospital & Clinic and Lana’i Community Hospital and accepts all patients. To submit a question, go to the website at mauihealthsystem.org/contact.