Early Diagnosis for Dementia Can Be Helpful
Someone you love—your parent, your spouse, a good friend—is showing signs of dementia: forgetting more often, being confused or perhaps exhibiting uncharacteristic behavior. You’re worried it could be Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia, but because you know that nothing can be done, you keep quiet, hoping you’re wrong.
Yet, discovering dementia early can be helpful for several reasons:
- You can reverse some cognitive problems that mimic dementia, such as depression or a vitamin B12 deficiency.
- Although there is no cure, Alzheimer’s medications can temporarily slow symptoms, improve quality of life and prolong independence, which also helps the patient’s caregivers.
- Slowing dementia’s symptoms with medication could reduce healthcare costs by delaying going into a nursing home. This also allows time to make decisions about future care and receive the patient’s input.
- Government or nonprofit agencies can provide support for the patient and caregiver. Services might include financial help and emotional counseling for both the patient and caregiver.
- The individual with dementia can have conversations with loved ones about what kind of treatment they want. They can fill out financial, legal and health advance directives before losing the ability to communicate. Without these directives, families often face wrenching decisions about their loved one’s care, such as what to do when the person can no longer eat or drink. If these conversations are put off too long, family members may have to go to court to take control of their loved one’s affairs, a costly and difficult process.
- Enrolling in palliative care can ease the effects of dementia. This specialized medical care provides relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness. Unlike hospice, palliative care is available at any stage of illness and can be combined with curative treatment.
Signs of Dementia
To help your loved one and yourself, watch for these indications of dementia. Dementia is a collective term that describes various symptoms of cognitive decline, such as memory loss. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, accounting for 60 to 80 percent of cases. Vascular dementia, which occurs after a stroke, is the second most common type.
- Memory loss
- Lapse in judgment
- Personality change
- Difficulty with language
- Tasks become difficult
Other possible signs of dementia are changes in vision, so the person has a hard time reading; not knowing the time or date; and loss of motor functions, so walking becomes more difficult.