by Sean McFadden –
Alzheimer Society Lanark Leeds-Grenville
Now, before we get into discussing the value of an early diagnosis, let me be very clear that reaching out to get a diagnosis at any time is a valuable experience and one that needs to happen. As you will quickly see however, an early diagnosis has benefits that are closely linked to quality of life that may be missed out on later.
Why would I or my loved one need to get a diagnosis? We’re just getting older! All of this is just normal right? Perhaps, but let’s be aware of the fact that dementia is not a normal part of aging. So what are examples of normal forgetfulness? Recognizing people and places, even if you cannot recall their names. Not remembering the day and time on that holiday. Forgetting details of a recent experience, but not the experience itself. Forgetting items, but will often remember later (why did I go to the basement?).
These, my friends, we all do; but you may feel there is more going on, and the question arises: “Should I get my memory evaluated?” as posed by Jeffrey Burns, M.D., director of the University of Kansas Heartland Institute Alzheimer’s and Memory Program. He points out this question is asked because people have noticed memory problems, and are struggling to sort out whether theses lapses are an inevitable part of normal aging, versus the start of something more ominous, such as Alzheimer’s disease. If your answer to the question of ‘should I get my memory evaluated’ is yes, then let’s talk about what you’re looking for that is considered warning signs for dementia, there are ten of them.
Problems with abstract thinking (e.g. not understanding numbers); misplacing things (e.g. putting things in strange places); changes in mood and behavior (e.g. exhibiting mood swings); changes in personality (e.g. behaving out of character); loss of initiative (e.g. losing interest in friends and favourite activities); memory loss affecting day-to-day function (e.g. retaining new info); difficulty performing familiar tasks (e.g. how to do something); problems with language (e.g. can’t find the right word); disorientation of time and place (e.g. getting lost in a familiar place); poor judgment (e.g. wearing light clothing on a cold day).
Now that we know what we need to look for, please note that as many as 50% of Canadians with dementia are not diagnosed early enough, losing precious time. So you are not alone in this, the main barriers to seeking help are fear and stigma. 60% of Canadians say it would be harder to disclose if they, or someone close to them, had Alzheimer’s disease, compared to other diseases because of the social stigma. It’s not hard to understand why most people are not running to their doctors seeking a diagnosis. To help break down the stigma and fear barriers, consider this research study by Gregory Jicha, MD, PhD, a professor at the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, called the Silver Lining Questionnaire. This questionnaire measures the extent to which people believe their illness had a positive benefit in areas such as: personal relationships, appreciation for life, influence on others, inner strength and life philosophy. Dr. Jicha states, “The overall assumption is that this diagnosis would have a uniformly negative impact on a patient’s outlook on life, but we were surprised to find that almost half of respondents reported positive scores.”
Forty-eight men and women with early dementia or mild cognitive impairment were asked a series of questions about their quality of life and personal outlook post-diagnosis. Responses were positive in areas such as appreciation and acceptance of life, and less concern about failure; self-reflection, tolerance of others, and courage to face problems in life; and strengthened relationships and new opportunities to meet people. “The common stereotype for this type of diagnosis is depression, denial, and despair,” Dr. Jicha said. “However, this study – while small – suggests that positive changes in attitude are as common as negative ones.”
To add to these responses gathered with the questionnaire here are some additional benefits of getting that early diagnosis. It allows you to take advantage of resources. You can focus on what’s important and use medications effectively. It provides support for families and allows for an accurate diagnosis. It advances research.
Allows you to be actively involved in your health care and personal decisions for the future
Please note that these early diagnosis benefits can enable a person living with dementia to stay independent longer, a goal all of us strive for.
Now perhaps you have made the decision to seek out a diagnosis or maybe not, but we have one final reason to get answers. The symptoms you’re seeing could be reversible! Yes that is correct, something could be done or at the least minimize the symptoms seen. There are symptoms from other conditions similar to symptoms of dementia such as depression, thyroid or heart disease, or infections, drug interactions or alcohol abuse (Delirium). Finding out the cause of the symptoms can help you understand the source of the symptoms, and get the proper care, treatment and support needed. Always remember the earlier a treatment can be given, the better the result.
So, friends, we have discussed a lot of different angles concerning getting that early diagnosis. People diagnosed with dementia, their friends, families and the health-care providers who support them, all recognize that early access to support and information is critical when living with the challenges that dementia brings. We have seen the positive results here at the Alzheimer Society Lanark Leeds Grenville. We can help you understand the early benefits to be had and help you seek them out. Please give us a call or drop in. Enjoy the benefits of saying “I’ll be early! I won’t be late!”