Due to amazing growth of Boomers and numbers of Alzheimer’s (AD) patients, it has become even more important for both the medical professionals and families to be aware of the need for screening for this debilitating disease.
Doing the Numbers on Alzheimer’s
Over ninety percent of identified Alzheimer’s Disease patients are age 65 and older with late onset AD. From that age, the risk doubles every five years. One in eight are diagnosed at age 65 and it progresses to 1 in 2 at age 85! In addition, the 85+ age group is the fastest growing – making the need to be proactive quite evident.
The others are early onset patients, often genetic (meaning that 50% of their offspring will get it). Symptoms surfaced any time from the 40s to the 60s, although it was present before it was medically recognized.
Reasons Seniors See a Doctor for Screening or Diagnosis
- To receive proper treatment and medications
- Safety (medicines, driving, and diet) issues
- Family member observing something different
- Patient repeating the same story over and over
- Less often one spouse brings the other in (but often the spouse gets used to changes little by little, thus not realizing how much memory issues have worsened)
- Sometimes patient comes on his or her own
- In response to a crises
Yearly screening from age 65 on can be helpful in detecting changes in functioning. Sometimes a patient is asked to remember three words, draw a clock, etc. in screening. Seeing a medical professional can get a patient on the way to defining and addressing the problems along with researching the reasons via a proper diagnosis. Medical professionals can address concerns of safety, finances, therapy, treatment, medications, and caregivers.
Why Older Adults with Alzheimer’s Need Treatment
As mentioned above, a main reason is safety, of themselves and others in society (accidentally starting fires, driving hazards, etc.) Everyday life activities involving cooking, use of tools, problems with finances, getting lost are issues which need attention. These activities of daily living are crucial to maintaining everyday activities. Treatment offers an opportunity to save millions by delaying nursing home placement
Early diagnosis allows for more effective treatment in order to slow the progression, stay connected to the family longer, improve or stabilize behavior which is the main reason for referral to nursing homes, and give more relief to symptoms. Such early diagnosis and treatment also provides time to plan for the future. The sooner problems are addressed, the better the patient will be.
Barriers Causing Delay in Addressing AD Symptoms
- People are afraid of getting involved
- Avoidance, although actual diagnosis often brings relief since coping and a plan can start
- Lack of public awareness
Differences Between Alzheimer’s and Normal Aging
Normal seniors may have memory issues. For AD patients, their issues involve problem-solving, executive functioning, judgment, and words that just don’t come. For normal older adults, a word may not come at first, but then it appears “from the tip of the tongue” whereas Alzheimer’s patients never find the proper word, usually names.
Another litmus test is that normal people may have a memory problem (due to normal aging, chemo, stroke, etc.) which stays static or shows some improvement, whereas Alzheimer’s patients become progressively worse.
People diagnosed with Alzheimer’s have symptoms of dementia. Dementia is a symptom involving loss of cognitive functioning which interferes with doing what one needs to do. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s.
Need for Research in Field of Memory and Alzheimer’s
There is a vital need for further research, both for treatment options and prevention. As the at risk population will rise sharply in the next few years, some are opting to participate in clinical research studies. To do so, they must have a caregiver and informed permission from both patient and caregiver. Such research may be crucial to the increasing numbers of older adults.
Today is a good day to consider the Biblical wisdom to “Honor your mother and father” by acting on your own doubts and/or concerns out of your love for them. Instead of a parent, it may be a spouse, friend, or neighbor who needs your input to help them seek regular screening or medical help for memory and other related issues.
Source: Interview with Dr. Susan Jane Steen, a board certified neurologist practicing at Tampa Neurology Associates, president for Axiom Clinical Research of Florida, and Medical Director of South Tampa Memory Center.