Early Diagnosis: The Key to Facing Alzheimer’s Head-On
November marks Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness and Caregivers Month. In addition to awareness, it’s also an opportunity to educate and enlighten. In particular, it’s imperative for the community to be informed about the steps that need to be taken to ensure quality of life for those living with this debilitating disease. In order to take those steps, a clear and early diagnosis of the condition is essential in providing the best possible outcome for the individual.
What is Alzheimer’s disease and what are the symptoms to look out for?
Currently affecting over five million Americans Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive and irreversible brain disorder that destroys memory and other vital mental functions. With this disease, the brain cells and neuron connections slowly begin to degenerate and die, causing brain tissue to gradually shrink.
Alzheimer’s is considered to be the most common cause of dementia, a term used to describe a group of brain disorders that results in loss of social skills and logic. The loss of these abilities can be severe enough to interfere with everyday life and tasks.
While Alzheimer’s may be the common cause of dementia, scientists do not fully understand the reasons for the subtle brain changes that occur. However, it is suspected that a combination of lifestyle, genetic and environmental factors can affect brain health over the course of time.
For someone suffering with Alzheimer’s, the changes in the brain will lead to the following issues:
- Becoming disoriented and confused about places and concepts (e.g., what time/day/season it is)
- Difficulty with concentrating and thinking, especially when it comes to intangible concepts, such as numbers and math
- Memory loss that worsens over time, such as forgetting conversations, misplacing objects and forgetting the names of friends and loved ones
- Slower decision making when it comes to situations that require quick thinking, such as a grease fire on a stove or reacting to a sudden driving situation
- Significant changes in personality and behavior including:
- Delusional thinking (e.g., believing an object has been stolen)
- Mistrust of others
- Noticeable changes in sleeping habits
- Social withdrawal
- Sudden irritability and aggression
- Wandering around
- Trouble finding the right words for objects, thoughts and during conversation
Why is early diagnosis important?
Despite the fact that there is no known cure for the condition, there are many potential benefits to an early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. For the individual, these include:
- An opportunity to work with physicians to properly understand what symptoms are present and to create a “cognitive baseline” before true cognitive decline begins
- Having important conversations regarding personal wishes and sentiments as well as legal and financial issues. This proactive planning can aid in avoiding “sudden crisis decisions” later on. It can also help with getting affairs in order and allowing those involved to gain acceptance
- Making use of support groups, counseling and other resources in the community
- Reducing the symptoms of Alzheimer’s by trying different drug regimens
- The ability to plan ahead in order to avoid risks associated with cognitive decline, such as financial loss and the unsafe use of dangerous objects
For family and friends, the benefits include:
- An understanding or explanation of the mental decline of a friend/family member/ spouse
- Learning the skills and mechanisms necessary to manage someone with the condition
- Making use of support groups, counseling and other resources in the community. This allows everyone to get on the same page, come to terms with the diagnosis and be supportive of one another during a difficult time
Overall, an early diagnosis leads to better medical care and a better outcome for the individual living with Alzheimer’s. Without a proper diagnosis, for example, those living with the condition are more likely to be prescribed medications for other conditions that may worsen Alzheimer’s and its symptoms.
With that in mind, an annual memory screening is recommended for those over 65 years of age as they run an increased risk of developing the disease. Just like it is recommended to get a dental checkup twice a year and an annual physical, this should become part of the regular health and wellness regime.
What steps need to be taken to determine the need for further evaluation?
At Montclair Memory Clinic, we are dedicated to caring for adults with cognitive difficulties. In doing so, we offer a variety of screening options for Alzheimer’s and other cognitive disorders of the brain. These options include:
1) Scheduling a free screening for the month of November by calling Christine Zipeto, Nurse Navigator
2) Having the individual take an online self-assessment
3) Doing both! Take the self-assessment online and then contact Montclair Memory Clinic for a free consultation of the results of the online test.
For more information on Alzheimer’s or our services, contact Montclair Memory Clinic or fill out our contact form today.