IS IT REALLY IMPORTANT TO GET A DEMENTIA DIAGNOSIS EARLY IN THE DISEASE?

YES!  Here are some reasons why:

(1)  The elder being tested will still have the ability to help make decisions about his/her care.  The longer a diagnosis is put off, the more brain function is lost, and along with that function goes the memories of what they would like to have happen to them in the future.  In that case, all the decisions fall onto the shoulders of the family who may have no idea what this loved one would have wanted.

(2)  Medications can help preserve what is still there.  The earlier these meds are started, the longer the elder may be able to hold onto cognitive and functional abilities.  As of early 2012, the best treatment options we have for Alzheimer’s is a combination of one of the cholinesterase inhibitors (Aricept, Exelon or Razadyne) plus Namenda.  These two drugs work differently in the brain and they work better together than either one does alone.

(3)  The family can make plans for their future, as well as their loved one’s future.  If there is no diagnosis, there is no action plan.  Without an action plan, every crisis (and there will be crises) will lead to chaos and lost opportunities for decision-making.  For instance, if the family is in denial about Mom’s increasing forgetfulness and Dad is continually covering up for her, when she falls and breaks a hip, there will be chaos about what to do next.  If they had the diagnosis before the accident, they would then be able to prepare for several crisis scenarios:

  • They could scope out rehabs/facilities in advance and get their names on lists so when that crisis occurs, they have already completed the ton of paperwork as well as legwork and will have a better chance at getting into the facility they prefer rather than the one that is most convenient at the time.
  • Finances would be looked at for Mom’s healthcare and/or rehab.
  • Healthcare power of attorney could be assigned to avoid having the family fight over what should be done.
  • The family would be able to arrange for help for Dad to reduce his burden in caring for Mom, thus preserving his health.
  • The entire family could educate themselves about how to best interact with Mom so she has a better quality of life, and they also have reduced stress levels.
  • Safety measures could be implemented so Mom doesn’t wander off, burn down the house, or fall down the stairs.  If everyone is denying what they’re seeing, then as Mom becomes increasingly confused, her safety risks escalate daily.  Education about how to keep her safer in the home would prevent many crises.

So please don’t delay if you see the signs that make you think it could be a type of dementia such as Alzheimer’s.  After all, it might not be Alzheimer’s, and wouldn’t that be a wonderful surprise to go in thinking the worst and discovering instead that Mom has a severe Vitamin B12 deficiency–and that can be fixed and her symptoms will go away.

I would love to hear from you if you have experienced a delayed diagnosis of dementia and what happened as a result of that.

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