Many patients fear a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease above any other age-related condition. To complicate matters, there are many other conditions that can cause similar symptoms of dementia, making it difficult to pinpoint the cause early on. However, there are significant benefits to early detection that make it worthwhile to pursue.
Alzheimer’s Disease is not the only form of dementia
Dementia is an umbrella term for a loss of cognitive function. It impacts people’s ability to remember, understand, and focus on their lives. Language skills, visual perception, and decision-making can all deteriorate. It can also reduce patients’ ability to control their emotions. When it reaches a severe stage, people require care for all their basic needs, such as eating, dressing, and using the toilet.
Alzheimer’s Disease is generally the form of dementia that patients are most familiar with, and it is considered to be responsible for 60-80% of dementia cases. However, it is not the only cause of cognitive decline.
According to the National Institute on Aging, there are many other issues that can cause similar symptoms, including neurodegenerative disorders such as Lewy Body dementia and frontotemporal disorders. Brain function can also be affected by vascular issues, side effects from certain medications, brain injuries, vitamin deficiencies, drinking too much alcohol, and more.
With that many potential causes of dementia, it may seem inevitable that patients have to wait until the onset of significant symptoms to begin the battery of tests needed to pinpoint the cause. Unfortunately, that approach misses a crucial window of opportunity.
Early detection improves patients’ lives
According to a review article in the journal Degenerative Neurological and Neuromuscular Disease, the first stage of Alzheimer’s Disease is preclinical, in which brain changes are occurring, but no cognitive symptoms are seen. The next stage is mild cognitive impairment that doesn’t prevent the patient from engaging in normal activities. Although many patients aren’t identified until the next stage which is moderate impairment, there are important benefits of diagnosis earlier in the disease process.
Although Alzheimer’s disease cannot be stopped or cured, there are lifestyle changes that can help patients live with it independently for longer. Treatments to support cognitive function and quality of life are available. Despite the progressive nature of the disease, these interventions can improve patients’ quality of life. It’s been shown that a shorter time between the onset of symptoms and the beginning of treatment is associated with longer survival. Early treatment also resulted in a lower rate of institutionalization.
Early diagnosis also enables patients and their families to make financial, legal, and caretaking decisions before a crisis. This can significantly reduce some of the stress on caretakers and loved ones.
While facing a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease can be a daunting prospect, the benefits of early diagnosis are great. One tool that can help patients prepare to cope with Alzheimer’s Disease and other genetic causes of dementia is genetic testing. Understanding their risk of developing these diseases can be an important tool in early detection. Please contact us for more information on how we can help.