What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disease that destroys an individual’s mental functions, including the memory. The cells of the brain steadily degenerate and die, resulting in a steady deterioration of cognitive function. It is the most frequent cause of dementia, particularly in older adults, and can lead to the near total loss of social and intellectual skills. If the disease progresses far enough, it can cause those suffering from the condition to undergo significant changes in personality and cause them to forget people who are important to them.
Diagnosing the Disease
A definitive diagnosis of the disease can only be made after an individual’s death when the results of the examination of brain tissue are connected with clinical assessment. However, if an elderly loved one is exhibiting memory problems, especially signs of dementia, it is important that a medical professional is consulted.
There are many techniques, and tools physicians can use to determine whether a patient’s dementia may be linked to Alzheimer’s disease. There are two conclusions the physician can draw:
- An individual may be diagnosed as possibly having Alzheimer’s dementia, in which there is a possibility that dementia may be the symptom of another medical condition, or
- The physician may determine an individual has probable Alzheimer’s dementia for which no other reason for dementia can be found.
The tests the physician may conduct may be repeated multiple times so that he or she can evaluate how the patient’s memory and mental functions are changing over a period. To confirm the presence of Alzheimer’s disease, a physician may:
- Perform standard medical tests, which may include lab tests on blood and urine, to determine if there are other reasons for the memory issues,
- Have the patient undergo extensive brain scans, including magnetic resonance imaging, positron emission tomography and computed tomography
- Pose specific questions to the patient and an accompanying family member or friend about the patient’s previous medical issues, general health, noticeable changes in personality and behavior and whether he or she can conduct routine daily activities
- Conduct assessments of the patient’s problem-solving, counting, language, concentration and memory capabilities
The Importance of an Early Diagnosis
The early detection of Alzheimer’s disease is essential to receiving the effective treatment that may help with being able to preserve some daily functioning ability, at least for some time. It is also useful in allowing the patient and his or her family to take care of certain practical matters for the future. Legal and financial issues can be addressed, as well as plans for determining how to ensure the safety of the patient. An elderly loved one may also have time to make public his or her wishes for long-term care, such as an assisted living facility, nursing home or memory care center, may be appropriate.
Another advantage of detecting Alzheimer’s disease while it is still in its early stages is that it gives patients the opportunity to be participants in clinical trials. As a participant, the patient will be able to take part in trials that test new treatments for the disease.