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Alzheimer’s Disease: Why Early Detection Matters

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Weston W. Radford, MD

Radford

Affinity Medical Group

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Nearly six million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. That’s about 1 in 10 people over the age of 65. Although there’s not currently a cure or treatment to stop the progression of the disease, early detection can make a positive difference and benefit both patients and caregivers.

Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and worsen over time, eventually becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks such as driving, cooking dinner and even carrying on a conversation.

There are several factors that may increase a person’s risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease:

  • Family history
  • Hypertension
  • High cholesterol
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Past brain trauma
  • Long-term use of certain medications, including ones for anxiety and heartburn

Memory loss that disrupts daily activities and difficulty completing familiar tasks are two of the most common Alzheimer’s disease symptoms – for example, forgetting to take medication, putting dishes in the wrong place and getting lost while driving. Additional signs include challenges with problem-solving, confusion with time or place, new problems with speaking or writing, misplacing items, poor judgment, becoming withdrawn socially, and changes in mood or personality.

If you notice these symptoms in a loved one, start with making an appointment with a primary care provider.  The appointment will include a complete health history as well as a mini memory test that includes various brain puzzles. The appointment will also include a depression screening as other mental health conditions can mimic dementia in the elderly population. It’s helpful to have a family member present during the appointment to help give history and background. After the initial appointment, your primary care provider may recommend lab testing, including a magnetic resonance imaging test.

Although there isn’t a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there are still benefits to detecting it during its earliest stages:

  • Medical benefits – The right medication can help improve Alzheimer’s disease symptoms and ensure safety in overall care. Starting medication early may also help slow a person’s decline.
  • Emotional and social benefits – Detecting the disease early, provides an opportunity for patients to participate in support groups. Caregivers can also benefit from additional support and education.
  • More time to plan for the future – You can research assisted living and nursing home options before one is needed as well as prepare advance directives.
  • Cost savings – It’s less expensive to prevent problems, such as a car crash or problems with medication. You can also take steps to prevent financial mistakes due to confusion or memory lapses.

Ascension Wisconsin primary care providers can help get the ball rolling with early screenings, discussions regarding memory, and Alzheimer’s disease care. We coordinate with neurologists, home health agencies, local Alzheimer’s Association chapters and nursing facilities to ensure we are providing the highest quality care for our older patients.

To learn more about Alzheimer’s disease, talk to a primary care provider. To find a primary care provider near you, contact your health insurance provider.

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