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Carole Carson: Correcting the record

By Carole Carson | Submitted to The Union

In an article on memory published Feb. 17 in The Union, I wrote that online memory tests were unreliable. I based this conclusion on my experience — the first three tests I took evaluated my memory as tottering on dementia, and each website suggested I buy a useless product to improve my memory.

After failing those three tests, I took a fourth, MemTrax. But this test scored my memory skills so high — in the 97th percentile for my age group — that I doubted its credibility as well.

But I was wrong, so I must set the record straight. The MemTrax test is the gold standard for measuring memory skills. You can find it on the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America website (http://www.afamemorytest.com) and take the test yourself.

The test is fun to take. It is visual rather than language-based, takes less than 2 minutes, and does not involve the purchase of any product. Results are immediately available.

My error in lumping MemTrax with the other tests — tests seemingly designed to sell ineffective products — was corrected by none other than Dr. J. Wesson Ashford, Jr., the very person who designed the test.

Ashford and his wife, who moved from the Bay Area during the pandemic, are currently living near family in Grass Valley.

After reading my article, Ashford sent me an email in which I learned he works in Palo Alto as the director of the War-Related Illness and Injury Study Center at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System. Memory is a major problem for many of his veteran patients.

Ashford is also a clinical professor (affiliated) at Stanford University and a faculty member at the Stanford Alzheimer’s Center, as well as chair of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America Medical, Scientific, and Memory Screening Advisory Board.

After I apologized to Ashford for my inaccurate conclusion and assured him I would correct the error, we had a meaningful conversation where he emphasized the importance of early recognition of memory problems and dementia.

“There is no drug to prevent or reverse Alzheimer’s,” Dr. Ashford said, “but early intervention is valuable. Positive lifestyle changes can enhance and protect memory.”

Ashford added, “What’s good for the body is good for the brain.” In his list of the top 10 health habits that promote memory retention, Dr. Ashford recommends continued learning, regular exercise, socializing, good nutrition and avoidance of tobacco and alcohol.

Ashford also recommends a proactive approach to managing one’s health — including knowing the health risks at each stage of life and monitoring one’s blood pressure. He suggests that, beginning at age 65, individuals get an annual exam by their physician, so changes in lifestyle habits can be discussed and prescribed.

I apologize for my mistaken conclusion and appreciate Ashford’s subsequent correction. The Union readers now know they have access to an excellent tool for measuring memory, and I have had the privilege of meeting a knowledgeable medical expert.

Carole Carson, Nevada City, is an author, former AARP website contributor, and leader of the 1994 Nevada County Meltdown. Contact: carolecarson41@gmail.com

Carole Carson
photo by Elias Funez/efunez@theunion.com

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