Published on: April 28, 2016
by Sue Daugherty for Sandusky Register:
It can be hard to know the difference between age-related changes in memory and the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Too often, memory changes in later life are never identified beyond an “assumptive diagnosis” and treated accordingly. An “assumptive diagnosis” looks like this:
“I’m worried about Dad. His memory is getting bad. Well, he is 75 years old, so it’s probably Alzheimer’s Disease. Assumptive diagnosis has now been made. There’s no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, so I’m not going to do anything. It will just upset him.” (Corresponding treatment to assumptive diagnosis has just been ordered.)
Although it is easier to just sweep it under the rug, this is not “best practice.” Talking about it is what is best. We aren’t there yet, but we need to be. Just as our society has slowly become more comfortable talking about death and dying; someday, we will become more comfortable openly—and HONESTLY—discussing memory changes as we age.
There are advantages to getting a diagnosis by a specialist. You see, not all memory loss is caused by Alzheimer’s disease. Since our society does not openly discuss aging and memory loss—unless we are making sarcastic wisecracks about it—people aren’t aware of that fact.
Medication interactions, low vitamin B12, an underactive thyroid, a tumor, a urinary tract infection, or untreated depression are some examples of treatable conditions, that when left untreated can mimic Alzheimer’s disease. Once properly diagnosed and treated, memory can be restored.
Early detection of Alzheimer’s disease also matters. If diagnosed early enough, it gives the person with Alzheimer’s disease time to discuss important matters with the family and make plans accordingly. It gives time to make health care decisions about participating in clinical trials, what medications could be used, make end of life care decisions, and manage finances.
The Alzheimer’s Association has created a list of warning signs for Alzheimer’s disease and related conditions:
1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life
2. Challenges in planning or solving problems
3. Difficulty completing a task
4. Confusion with time or place
5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
6. New problems with words in speaking or writing
7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
8. Decreased or poor judgment
9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
10.Changes in mood or personality
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