Dementia is one of the most feared health conditions, especially in older adults. Adults with early signs of dementia and their families are often reluctant to seek advice. In fact, more than half of adults with dementia go undiagnosed.
Until recently, an early dementia diagnosis did not necessarily make a difference in long-term outcomes of Alzheimer’s disease or other related dementia. However, as we have learned more and more about dementia, its causes and how to treat it, it has become increasingly important to obtain an early diagnosis. Many hospitals and health centers now offer comprehensive Memory Disorders Clinics, where adults can seek an accurate confidential, diagnosis. In addition, the Department of Medicare and Medicaid Services requires primary care physicians to conduct an annual assessment to detect early cognitive impairment and has provided guidance about diagnostic testing, referrals and treatment options.
Here are 5 reasons to seek an early diagnosis:
1. Rule out “reversible” causes of cognitive impairment
A careful medical evaluation is crucial to excluding “treatable” or reversible causes of cognitive impairment such as anxiety and depression, some vitamin deficiencies, side effects of medications and certain brain conditions fall into this category.
2. Relief of uncertainty
Not knowing what is causing changes in memory, behaviors, judgment, etc. can be distressing to both the affected adult and their families. While a diagnosis of dementia is devastating, many adults feel empowered and the anxiety caused by uncertainty dissipates.
3. Access to treatment
Treatment of Alzheimer’s and other dementia-causing diseases is typically most effective when started early in the disease process. Once more effective treatments become available, obtaining an early and accurate diagnosis will be even more crucial.
4. Access to clinical trials
Research on what causes dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, and how it can be reversed or slowed can only move forward if adults are willing to volunteer for clinical trials. Today, there are over 200 clinical trials actively enrolling participants at over 500 sites in the United States. Researchers are testing new ways to detect, treat and prevent Alzheimer's disease and dementias, especially in the early stages. The best websites to begin searching for clinical trials include Trial Match and ClinicalTrials.gov
5. Access to support services
Having the correct diagnosis is important for getting the right advice and support. Today, there is much information available both those with dementia and their family care partners including:
- Information on help available at home or in the community, such as from local or regional Areas on Aging, social services, adult day centers, and advocacy organizations such as the local chapters of the Alzheimer’s Association.
- Advice regarding legal planning, financial benefits, and planning for the future.
- Advice about driving, medication management and home safety.
- Advance care planning enables a person to be involved in discussions about their future when they are still able to do so effectively.
- Information and support groups. There are a number of sources of information and advice that are easier to find if you have a diagnosis. Access to a community-based support groups is easier if a diagnosis is clear because support groups are often tailored to others in similar situations.
About Dementia Care at Hebrew SeniorLife
Hebrew SeniorLife’s Hebrew Rehabilitation Center in Boston offers testing for memory disorders such as Alzheimer's Disease for patients in the Greater Boston area. Our clinicians can help determine if a patient’s memory loss is part of the aging process, medications being taken, or a sign of dementia. For those living with a memory disorder in need of long-term care, Memory Care located within Hebrew Rehabilitation Center at our Roslindale and Dedham locations, and our Memory Care Assisted Living at NewBridge on the Charles take a holistic approach to managing care for residents with Alzheimer's and other dementias while preserving independence and functional ability. Therapeutic programs focus on residents' medical, physical, social, cultural, emotional, behavioral and spiritual needs in a compassionate, supportive and structured environment.