Dementia – why it’s so important to diagnose early

thOFWMLYI6Alzheimer’s disease – the leading cause of dementia in older people – can have a devastating impact on both the person with the disease, and their surrounding family and friends. Its symptoms are unsettling at the very least, and can be devastating and destructive as the disease progresses.

Too often, dementia (whether it’s Alzheimer’s disease, Lewy Body dementia, vascular dementia, or any other disease that causes dementia) is not diagnosed until the person has been experiencing symptoms for several years. This means that treatment and lifestyle changes will have a limited impact on the person.

An early diagnosis, followed by medical treatment, and dietary and lifestyle adjustments, is the best possible way to guarantee a longer, healthier, and more fulfilling life for the senior.

Diagnosis

There is no single diagnostic tool that will provide you with a definitive diagnosis. Rather, a diagnosis is the conclusion of a series of assessments and tests undertaken by doctors and neurologists.

  • A questionnaire, designed by University of California researchers offers an 87% accurate diagnosis in people over the age of 70, who also have many risk factors for dementia.
  • Risk factors that can’t be changed include age, family history, and genetics. Risk factors that you can influence include head trauma (wear protective head gear if you engage in high impact sports or activities in younger life; wear a seat-belt; fall-proof your house). The heart-head connection: a healthy cardiovascular system will protect your brain’s health. Healthy ageing – a healthy lifestyle contributes to a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia.
  • Other tests include CT scans, MRI, SPECT, and PET tests. These can help to identify the cause of the dementia.
  • Referral to specialists such as a neurologist, geriatrician, or psychiatrist may help to ensure that you or your loved one receives exactly the right treatment going forward.

Symptoms

So what can you look out for in your loved one, in order to ensure that they age well and minimise the impact of a dementia-causing disease?

  • Memory loss – is your loved one becoming increasingly forgetful, and unable to perform simple, everyday tasks as a result?
  • Have you noticed your loved one getting lost or confused in familiar surroundings? Perhaps they can’t remember how to get to the bathroom, or where the front door is.
  • Confusion around time of day is another indicator of dementia.
  • Is your loved one experiencing difficulty finding the right word, with increasing frequency?
  • Mood and personality changes – aggression, distrust, secretiveness, in your loved one may all be signs that they have dementia.

 

There are 10 identified warning signs or symptoms for Alzheimer’s disease – check out this brochure by the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada for the full list.

Coping with a diagnosis

Sometimes, living with someone who has dementia can be very challenging. Coping with unexpected personality changes, having to explain simple things in minute detail, perhaps having to repeat yourself ad nauseum, can all take their toll on your emotional strength. A visit from a Platinum support worker on a regular basis can help take the pressure off, and allow you to take precious time out for yourself.