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Alzheimer's

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Early Detection of Alzheimer's Disease
By Kristine Dwyer, Staff Writer

(Page 3 of 6)

Delay of Diagnosis:
Amazingly enough, there is a significant percentage of caregivers who are told, upon bringing their spouse or relative to the physician, that their decline is due to “normal aging.” We now know that dementia is not a normal part of the aging process.It is strongly recommended that persons experiencing any dementia-type symptoms should undergo diagnostic testing as soon as possible. A delay in diagnosis allows for a missed opportunity for treating the patient and also increases the chances for other problems and demands to multiply for the caregiver. For example, since AD affects memory, patients are at risk of not complying with the treatments that are necessary for problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, mental health disorders and infections. A health crisis can then develop, compound the effects of dementia and lead to emergency care or hospitalization.

Caregivers may initially hesitate to bring a loved one with dementia to the physician. Researchers at the University of Portland found that it takes an average of 30 months from the time family members notice the first changes and symptoms of dementia for the person to be diagnosed with AD. Reasons cited by caregivers were: lack of knowledge about AD, they did not imagine that the changing behavior was part of an illness, they were unsure what type of doctor to see or how to describe symptoms, they felt overwhelmed with the burden of caregiving or they feared that the illness was truly AD. Many caregivers have reported that prior to the diagnosis, they were nearly overcome with anxiety as they watched their loved one deteriorate. Once the diagnosis was made, they felt a great sense of relief and were finally able to name the disease and move forward toward a plan of care.

There are several other reasons that contribute to a delayed diagnosis of AD. Early symptoms are often disregarded, mistakenly attributed to aging or even misdiagnosed. Sometimes people with dementia are unwilling to have their mental abilities evaluated, are defensive, or in denial of the changes that are occurring in their lives. Physicians may not feel comfortable dealing with memory loss issues, may not be trained to administer cognitive tests or are reluctant to place a patient in an uncomfortable testing situation. Patients with high intelligence may be able to score above average on screening tests (despite cognitive decline) and compensate for or even mask their symptoms during the office examination, thus leaving the physician without sufficient evidence to provide a diagnosis. This is the point where caregivers play an important role and can provide the most valuable data to support the possible diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.

Treatments and Medication Benefits:
Although there is no cure for AD, new and improved treatments are on the horizon and offer hope. Most health professionals feel that the best plan of treatment includes a combination of medication, changes in lifestyle and support, along with a goal of managing symptoms that affect memory, thinking and behavior. The regional director of the Alzheimer’s Association of Minnesota-North Dakota points out that there is a growing interest in the use of non-medical interventions that may be effective on their own or used in combination with medications. These interventions may include memory and communication aids, speech therapy, behavioral therapies, memory stimulation therapy, exercise, adequate sleep and education. The environment also strongly influences the health and capabilities of persons with AD; thus, it is important for caregivers to pay attention to safety factors, reduce stimuli and adjust the surroundings to accommodate the disease.

 

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