Millions of Americans have Alzheimer's and other cognitive diseases, and those numbers are expected to double as baby boomers age. Here in Wilmington, there are medical advances being made to delay the signs. Memory Assessment and Research Services, or MARS, has been helping people delay the signs of memory loss for the last three years. The program also helps in early detection of memory loss and cognitive impairments. Dr. Len Lecci is the clinical director of MARS and a psychology professor at UNC Wilmington. He and other UNCW professors started the program in hopes of helping the community. It turned out, people from all across the country wanted to take advantage of the services. "What were trying to do is detect it when it's still considered a mild cognitive impairment," said Lecci. Here's how it works. A person can get their first mental check up when they are in their mid 50's. A year later, they get checked again to see if there is any memory loss. Lecci said, "If we can detect a change at that point, then what we do is refer to their physician." MARS doctors then recommend treatments to the patients' primary care physician. The most common treatment is medication. "They protect the neuron from the plaque that occurs with things like Alzheimer's and dementia," said Lecci. "These medicines work very well to slow the progression of illnesses such as Alzheimer's and dementia." The tests are not painful. They are made to challenge your memory. For example, one test requires that you touch blocks in the same order as the doctor." Insurance should cover the testing if a person has already been diagnosed with dementia. Without insurance, the first round of testing will cost about $150. Dr. Lecci recommends getting a mental health test once a year, depending on your risk factors. "What we are basically doing is making it so the symptoms don't present themselves in a severe enough way prior to your life expectancy," said Lecci. As of now, medicine hasn't found a cure for memory loss, but early detection and treatment can help a person enjoy, and remember the final years of their life. For more information on the Memory Assessment and Research Services program call 910-962-7898 or visit the MARS website.
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