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

(Page 1 of 6)

Dementia itself is not a disease, but rather a set of symptoms that accompany specific diseases.  Dementia is a general term for the loss of memory, language and recognition that is severe enough to interfere with everyday life. Researchers believe dementia may be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Some diseases that cause dementia are irreversible and include Huntingtonís disease, Pickís disease, Parkinsonís disease, Lewy body dementia, multi-infarct dementia and Alzheimerís disease (AD), the most common form of dementia, accounting for 60-70 percent of the diagnosed cases. 
An estimated 4.5 million people in the United States have dementia. On average, patients with AD live from 8 to 10 years after they are diagnosed, although the disease can last up to 20 years. The disease usually begins after age 60 and the risk increases with age. Younger people may get AD; however, it is much less common. Ten percent (10%) of Americans age 65 and older have AD and it affects fifty percent (50%) of Americans age 85 and older. AD is one of the most feared mental disorders because of its progressive and relentless attack on the brain. Despite its prevalence, dementia may go unrecognized or be misdiagnosed in the early stages of the disease.
According to the Alzheimerís Association and current national studies, there are many reasons to support the early detection of AD.  An early diagnosis is crucial because that is when the most can be done to slow the progression of symptoms. In addition, early treatment can have a considerable effect on maintaining a patientís current level of functioning. An early and accurate diagnosis can also help to identify reversible conditions that may mimic dementia such as depression, medication side effects, substance abuse, vitamin deficiencies, dehydration, bladder infections or thyroid problems. An initial  assessment can avoid the trauma of a diagnosis of dementia where it does not exist. It also prevents unnecessary and possibly harmful treatment resulting from misdiagnosis. 
Other reasons include:

  • Identifying the cause of dementia leads to proper care and allows patients a greater chance of benefiting from existing treatments
  • Early diagnosis can help resolve the anxiety that accompanies noticeable, yet unexplainable changes in behavior
  • Educating persons with dementia and their caregivers gives them time to develop advanced care planning
  • The quality of life for both the patient with AD and the family can be maximized.
  • The earlier the treatment, the better the chance of a favorable response to treatment, the longer the delay of progressive symptoms and the less financial cost overall.

The early identification process, currently  recommended by the Chronic Care Network for Alzheimerís Disease, includes two key tools to identify people who may have dementia.

Tool 1: Education and Awareness Materials which recommend the use of triggers that signal possible dementia and include the Ten Warning Signs of Alzheimerís Disease.
Tool 2: Family Questionnaire which aims to collect data from family members who are often the best historians and are more likely to be aware of the signs and symptoms (of possible dementia) that are not apparent to the medical staff.


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