The fear that surrounds a diagnoses of Alzheimer's is well documented, even in those that understand the importance of catching the disease early and know the long term effects of the disease first hand. The Atlantic recently ran a story on Dr. Rae Lyn Burke, a renowned Alzheimer's researcher, who chose to delay a visit to a neurologist for a year after realizing she was experiencing the early signs of Alzheimer's. She was not ready for the confirmation the diagnosis would bring for herself and her family. The illness carries a physical and emotional weight, as well as a social stigma that prevents many, including doctors, from discussing the symptoms and possible likelihood of experiencing the illness. A recent study by the "Working Mother Research Institute" asked women if their doctor had discussed Alzheimer's with them, 87% responded no.
The Alzheimer's Association estimates that 5.4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's disease; 5.2 million aged 65 and over, and 200,000 under the age of 65. Alzheimer's is now the 6th leading cause of death in the US and the only major cause of death without a way to prevent, cure or even slow its progression. As the population of people living longer grows so will the number of Alzheimer's patients and the astronomical costs of treating and caring for them. A key to fighting the physical, mental and financial costs of the disease is early detection.
Half of the caregivers who were part of the "Working Mother" study stated they wished their loved one had been diagnosed earlier. Only about a third of the patients in the study were diagnosed at the disease's early stage. Early detection offers a variety of benefits to the person diagnosed and their family including;
- appropriate intervention that may delay the symptoms of the disease,
- participation in clinical studies,
- taking part in decisions about medical options,
- making decisions about personal financial matters,
- making decisions about future living arrangements,
- planning for long term care,
- quality time spent with family and friends.
On Average 3.5 years elapse from the first symptoms of Alzheimer's to the time they are diagnosed. According to Douglas Scharre, MD, director of the cognitive neurology division of Ohio State's Wexner Medical Center, who took part in the above study, "There is so much more we can do for patients when we can screen and identify early."
The Alzheimer's Association provides the following list of the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer's
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life.
- Challenges in planning or soling problems
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure.
- Confusion with time or place.
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships.
- New problems with words in speaking or writing.
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps.
- Decreased or poor judgment.
- Withdrawal from work or social activities.
- Changes in mood and personality.
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