September is World Alzheimer’s Month – a global initiative to raise awareness and challenge the stigma that surrounds dementia. There is a lot of fear surrounding the disease and many who suspect they may have Alzheimer’s avoid a diagnosis because of it. In fact, it’s estimated that as many as half of all cases aren’t diagnosed. However, scientists are making progress in developing ways to reliably, inexpensively and non-invasively identify the disease years before cognitive symptoms develop. The ethical concern is whether people are ready to know. Would you want to know?
Benefits of an Early Diagnosis
Knowing as soon as possible, potentially even before you have symptoms, means you have more time to plan, prepare and take action on these issues:
- Get affairs in order. Take time to prepare or update your will, trusts, durable power of attorney and health care proxy. Assess your financial situation to determine your options regarding paying for care and preserving assets.
- Investigate long-term care support and services. What are your wishes for your care? Who can help you when the time comes? Consider what kind of services you may need and what assistance family and friends can provide and where you may need to hire help or move into a care facility.
- Seek out emotional support. Getting involved in support groups, working with a counselor, even talking with friends and family can provide much needed help in dealing with the fear, anxiety and sometimes social isolation of a diagnosis. There are groups for those diagnosed and their caregivers.
- Slow progress of the disease. There are several medications available which can help in the early and moderate stages to improve symptoms and slow the disease. Research for other treatments are ongoing. In addition, some studies suggest staying mentally active and maintaining social connections as you age may work to reduce the likelihood of Alzheimer’s disease or improve functioning.
- Discover whether you have Alzheimer’s. Just thinking you may have Alzheimer’s can lead to anxiety and it’s possible you may be wrong. There are other conditions with symptoms of memory loss. A doctor may determine that you have another treatable condition that would only worsen if you avoid medical care.
Disadvantages of an Early Diagnosis
Finding out that you have or will develop Alzheimer’s can be devastating emotionally. It can lead to anxiety and depression as well as social isolation. It often affects how people see themselves or others with the disease. In addition, a diagnosis may hurt performance on memory tests. Education and counseling are necessary to help someone deal with a diagnosis.
If you are concerned about developing Alzheimer’s, have symptoms or have already been diagnosed, the best action is to reach out for help. Learn more about the disease, research local support services and speak to qualified professionals about coping with the diagnosis.
If you need help with long-term care planning, contact me for a consultation.