The Importance of Early Diagnosis in Planning for Dementia

Over five million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease and this number continues to grow.  Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.  It is difficult to overstate the devastating impact Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias have on patients and their families.  One way to mitigate this impact is to empower those affected to make informed decisions about managing their health and their lives. 

Patients and their loved ones cannot make informed decisions without being educated.  However, in a survey of caregivers completed by the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, 81% of respondents reported that the individuals they care for experienced symptoms of Alzheimer’s for a year or more before being diagnosed.  Remember that the earlier these problems are diagnosed the more control you have about how you choose to address them. 

Memory screenings can be an important first step in identifying whether someone has a memory problem.  Memory screenings are short, simple, and safe.  They can be performed in a variety of settings, including physician’s offices, pharmacies, and senior centers.  Many community organizations have set up sites to make confidential memory screenings available to the public for free.  Screenings generally take between 5 and 10 minutes.  They involve questions designed to assess memory function, language, and thinking ability.  If a family member is reluctant to go for a full cognitive assessment, a memory screening can seem less daunting and provide an opening to begin discussing issues of memory loss and dementia.  However, memory screenings do not diagnose any particular illness.  If a memory screening indicates a problem, you will need to see a doctor for a more complete cognitive examination. 

Anyone who has significant concerns about memory loss should see a doctor whose practice focuses on dealing with memory impairment and get a full cognitive assessment.  The doctors who perform full cognitive assessments are generally going to be geriatric psychiatrists, neuropsychologists, and some neurologists.  Even if you do not have concerns about memory loss right now, you may still want to see a doctor to establish a baseline for the future.  This can be especially helpful for those who are at risk due to a family history of Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia.  In addition, a normal result from a cognitive evaluation can provide peace of mind for individuals worried that their “senior moments” of forgetfulness are indicative of a more serious problem.

Many people are reluctant to go for a memory screening or cognitive evaluation.  This may be due to the stigma of Alzheimer’s disease, denial, or fear of what such a test might show.  However, identifying a memory problem and its underlying cause can lead to many potential benefits.  Memory problems can be caused by a variety of medical conditions.  Some memory problems, such as those caused by vitamin deficiencies, can be readily treated.  Even if a memory problem is caused by Alzheimer’s disease, early diagnosis can improve quality of life by giving patients and their families an opportunity to learn more about the disease, receive treatment that might slow the progress of the disease, identify available support services, and address long-term care and estate planning issues while there is still time for patients to communicate their wishes and have a say in their care.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, Weatherby & Associates, PC can help you plan ahead to maximize quality of life now and moving forward.  Call us at 888-822-8778 for more information.

Categories: General Interest

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