October 30, 2012

Diagnosing Dementia Early



None of us wants to think that we or our loved ones are losing mental capacity.  It’s a frightening thought to anyone and one we avoid.  Still, scientists continue to try to identify dementia as early as possible, when there is the greatest hope for developing successful treatment.  This is true for most diseases.  With Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia our pride gets in the way.  “Dad’s fine, he knows exactly what he’s doing….my memory is fine, I’m just a little tired….we all forget things occasionally…Mom still has all her marbles” are the kinds of feelings we express when we start to become worried.


An additional problem we have with Alzheimer’s Disease is that insight deteriorates as the condition develops.  This too, is common in many forms of mental illnesses.  The longer we wait the harder it may be to get aging parents to make adaptations or get the help they may need because they become less and less able to perceive that a problem exists.


Regular memory screenings help reduce the stigma and stress of making these decisions.  We can all become more willing to seek help for ourselves or aging loved ones when we develop those nagging suspicions that something isn’t right.  Doctors are not always sophisticated about these issues.  Someone can appear perfectly normal in a brief encounter at a physician’s office I while at home the family notices the changes as more substantial.  Since we all want to hear that “everything seems fine” it pays to be persistent in seeking evaluation and treatment.  Early stages of Alzheimer’s cannot be found on standard medical diagnostic tests such as MRI’s.  Sophisticated psychological tests administered by neuropsychologists are the best strategy for evaluating early Alzheimer’s and other dementia.

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