According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer's disease is the leading cause of dementia, accounting for about 65 percent of dementia cases in individuals over age 60. Early diagnosis of Alzheimer's provides several important benefits to diagnosed individuals, their caregivers and loved ones, as well as society. “The development of biomarkers for Alzheimer's disease is making it possible to detect Alzheimer's disease and provide an accurate diagnosis earlier than at any other time in history. In addition to providing significant medical, emotional and social benefits and facilitating participation in important clinical trials, early diagnosis enables individuals to prepare legal, financial and end-of-life plans while they are still cognitively able to make decisions and share their wishes.” Other facts to consider:1
Physicians of all specialties should become familiar with the early signs of this disease to refer patients with symptoms to a specialist for further testing.
Typically, Alzheimer's progresses slowly in three stages—mild (early-stage), moderate (middle-stage), and severe (late-stage), with symptoms worsening over time. On average, a person with Alzheimer's lives four to eight years after diagnosis, but can live for 20 years, depending on other factors.2
The early signs of Alzheimer’s are:
Physicians should also assess for other conditions that may mimic or exacerbate dementia, such as vitamin deficiencies, heart conditions, or sleep apnea.
Only 45 percent of people with Alzheimer’s disease or their caregivers report being told of the diagnosis, whereas 90 percent of people with the most common types of cancer have been told of their diagnosis.1 Studies have revealed that physicians and other healthcare providers recognize the benefits of disclosing Alzheimer’s, but despite this, there is a reluctance to do so.
The benefits of clearly explaining the Alzheimer’s diagnosis include:
Once a patient has learned of his or her illness, physicians should:
There is strong evidence that the risk of cognitive decline may be decreased by making key lifestyle changes that include regular physical and social activity, and maintaining good heart health. As a treating provider, is important to teach and monitor patients within these areas along with appropriate referrals as indicated.
The guidelines suggested here are not rules, do not constitute legal advice, and do not ensure a successful outcome. The ultimate decision regarding the appropriateness of any treatment must be made by each healthcare provider considering the circumstances of the individual situation and in accordance with the laws of the jurisdiction in which the care is rendered.