Here’s a sad fact – Alzheimer’s is a progressive brain disease along with dementia, and it has no known cure yet. However, it’s quite a relief to know that there are current medications and treatments that patients can take. These slow down the disease process and its debilitating effects for a period of time. The good news is, memory loss and mild cognitive impairment of the brain are reduced if doctors detect Alzheimer’s symptoms in their early stages.
Scientists, researchers and other medical authorities strongly believe that Alzheimer’s disease develops from a combination of factors. Thankfully, they have identified these risk factors through years of extensive and continuous research and clinical trials. They say that some risk factors such as age, family history and genetics cannot be changed. Yet, new evidence suggests that we can influence other factors by changing our lifestyle and environment.
Age. Most people suffering from Alzheimer’s are the elderly. As we reach 65 years of age, the risk of developing Alzheimer’s doubles every 5 years. As we age, we are prone to develop Alzheimer’s and dementia, but scientists say they are not a normal part of aging. According to studies, signs, and symptoms of Early Alzheimer’s can begin as early as 30 years and above.
Family history. It’s more likely that anyone from your family will develop Alzheimer’s if you have more than one member who has it.
Genetics. Scientists say we have two genes that determine our risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Other Risk Factors. When you make poor lifestyle choices, then you are at risk when you have other health conditions like:
An accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and dementia is an important first step to ensure you receive the best-personalized treatment and care. It also prepares your family through correct information or education and makes plans for the future. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are 10 early signs and symptoms to look out for. These may start from mild cognitive impairment to serious cognitive decline from the earlier stages of the disease:
Memory Loss. This is one of the most common signs to appear during early Alzheimer’s stages. Patients keep on forgetting important events or recently learned information. This disrupts their daily life as they may keep asking the same questions over and over again. Elderly people with Alzheimer’s disease usually forget names or doctor appointments. Worse, they depend on memory aids such as reminder notes and gadgets.
Difficulty in planning and solving problems. A perfect example of this is if your mom or grandma has trouble following a familiar recipe or keep track of paying the bills. They struggle to work with numbers and find it hard to concentrate.
Struggling to complete daily tasks at home or work. People with Alzheimer’s often find it hard to do or finish familiar tasks that they normally do. It takes them longer to do things than they did before. For instance, they have trouble listing down grocery items or setting up the microwave.
Confusion with date, time, and place. People living with Alzheimer’s disease can get confused about dates, lose track of seasons and passage of time. They may often forget places, where they are, or how they got there.
Difficulty in understanding spatial relationships and visual images. People diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and dementia struggle with their vision. Thus, making it hard for them to read and identify colors. It’s hard for them to judge distances causing them trouble with driving or balancing their body when standing or walking.
Language and communication problems. People with Alzheimer’s often have problems following a conversation. They can’t seem to find the right words to say. For example, your mom or dad has trouble naming familiar things or mismatches names. Most patients become repetitive or worse, revert to their native language.
Misplacing things. Alzheimer patients often misplace small or familiar items such as keys. When their condition worsens, they may accuse someone of stealing from them.
Decreased or poor judgment in decisions. This refers to the inability of people with Alzheimer’s to make appropriate decisions. For instance, your parent might have wandered away from the house. Your mom then tried to walk across a very busy street without realizing the danger and their safety.
Withdrawal from work and social activities or engagements. Most Alzheimer patients tend to withdraw from hobbies, social activities, gatherings, or events. They become shy because they feel they’re unable to follow a conversation. Sometimes they’re embarrassed due to incontinence.
Changes in behavior, personality and mood. People with Alzheimer can become confused, depressed, fearful, or anxious. They easily get upset or become irritable.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, early detection of dementia or early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is crucial. It’s the first step in getting improved care and effective treatments for this mental disease. Here’s why you should consider getting yourself or a loved one checked early:
1. Medical Benefits
Early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s means better chances of benefiting from treatments. Remember that current medications for this disease do not prevent, stop, or reverse Alzheimer’s. They can only slow down the progress of the symptoms, such as memory loss and confusion for a limited time.
People diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease may have a chance to take part in clinical trials. This helps in advancing new research and study to provide medical benefits in the future. An earlier diagnosis of Alzheimer’s can make them eligible for clinical trials and other programs.
Early detection helps people focus on their health by changing their lifestyle. They now choose to maintain their blood pressure, quit smoking, stay mentally, physically, and socially active. All these help in preserving cognitive function for aging people to still be functional despite their disease.
2. Emotional and Social Benefits
Getting diagnosed early gives families the opportunity to maximize their time together. This also means having early access to resources and support programs. Families will have more time to plan for their future. They can choose care preferences and review legal, financial, and important life decisions.
“If we could have had a correct diagnosis for my wife even two years earlier, it would have given us more time to plan and to accomplish things we always wanted to do.” – Jay Smith, Family of Alzheimer’s Patient
It would save a lot of medical costs and long-term care for families and the government if people got an earlier diagnosis. This means getting diagnosed early when they still had mild cognitive impairment… way before dementia sets in the later stages of the disease.
What Alzheimer Tests to Take for Early detection?
We couldn’t emphasize this enough… But, early diagnosis and detection of Alzheimer’s play a vital role in fighting this disease in its early stages. The effectiveness of its treatment depends largely on it. So it’s best that a person undergoes a regular cognitive assessment. This can help doctors detect changes early for an accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.
You can get the latest medical tests for brain imaging scans like Positron Emission Tomography (PET). Doctors use it to study the brain and cerebrospinal fluid. It contains beta-amyloid and tau proteins for which early detection and diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is based. This fluid affects a patient’s brain. With Alzheimer’s, the brain shrinks as the disease progresses.
These tests are essential to help prepare families’ care preferences for Alzheimer’s, dementia, or other brain diseases. Here are some medical tests that you can try as recommended by the Alzheimer’s Association:
1. Biomarker test
This checks the presence of Alzheimer’s and dementia by measuring cerebrospinal fluid in the brain and the spinal column. The fluid contains beta-amyloid proteins which form plaques, and tau proteins, which form tangles. The test finds evidence of abnormal growth of these proteins. They are believed to contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s. This test may help identify people with the disease process before they have a serious mental decline. But, it is yet to be used routinely.
2. Brain Imaging or Neuroimaging Scans
PET scans are used to check brain disorders such as tumors, seizures, and Alzheimer’s disease. It uses radioactive tracers (drugs) that attach to beta-amyloid and tau proteins linked to Alzheimer’s. The tracers will “light up” chemical activity in affected areas of the brain through images. But, having protein plaques in the brain does not mean you have dementia. More extensive studies are needed to rule this out.
3. Cognitive Assessment
Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE) and the Mini-Cog Exam are two commonly used tests for people with possible mental health disorders. MMSE is done by asking a patient series of questions designed to test a range of everyday mental skills. While the latter uses computer-based tests of thinking, learning, and memory.
4. Loss of Odor Identification Tests
This may help support other tests in the early diagnosis of Alzheimer in patients.
“Some studies indicate that the ability to identify odors (olfactory impairment) declines with mild cognitive impairment and with progression from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s disease. Olfactory impairment has been associated with other diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, as well.“-Jonathan Graff-Radford, M.D.- Mayo Clinic
5. Physical Exam and Diagnostic Tests
These are basic procedures asking about a person’s diet, nutrition, and the use of alcohol. The doctor will review all medications currently being taken including OTC drugs and supplements. An Alzheimer patient will be asked for blood and urine samples for laboratory testing and other basic SOPs to assess health. This is to rule out other health conditions that cause some symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s or dementia. This may include a thyroid disorder, vitamin B-12 deficiency, and others.
6. Neurological Exam
Aside from MRI and PET imaging scans, the doctor will test an Alzheimer patient’s reflexes, eye movement, speech, and sensation. Coordination, muscle tone, and strength are also included in the neuro exam.
7. Mental Status Tests
This evaluates a patient’s memory and ability to solve problems and other thinking skills. Can a patient be able to follow simple instructions and solve simple calculations?
8. Genetic Test
“Genetic testing is also used by physicians to help diagnose early-onset Alzheimer’s disease and to test people with a strong family history of Alzheimer’s or a related brain disease”. -National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Our world has drastically changed this 2020. Visiting our friends and families and attending social gatherings has been hard due to COVID-19 pandemic. People living with Alzheimer’s and their families may feel a deep sense of loss during this time because of strict safety protocols.
Everything might be so difficult right now, but let us not wallow and lose hope. Good thing technology has been a lifesaver for people to stay socially-connected in spite of this crisis. Know that you’re not alone in the fight against Alzheimer’s and COVID-19.