How do I know if it’s Alzheimer’s Disease?
Not Cause for Concern:
Forgetting names (but recognizing the name when reminded)
Occasional difficulty finding specific words, but able to express the idea
Forgetting the date by a day or two
Forgetting to do something (but remembering when reminded)
If you are beginning to notice any of the following things, consider an evaluation:
Difficulty learning and remembering new information
Loss of enthusiasm and slowness
Word-finding difficulty, novel substitutions
Easily confused, difficult to “unconfuse”
Difficulty with machinery, finances, driving, cooking
Multiple repetitions of the same question or statement
Frequently losing things
Advantages of Early Intervention/Diagnosis:
a) Resolves uncertainty; b) Allows caregiver planning and education; c) Start of medical treatment and possible participation in research; d) Provides opportunity for life-review and discussion of care options with the affected individual; e) Environment can be stabilized and routine established; f) Provides rationale for reducing responsibilities.
Problem behavior can be reinterpreted to avoid:
Driving accidents or accidents at home or work
Medication mix ups
Social and work mistakes and embarrassment.
Suggestions for getting a family member in for an assessment:
(Health care providers cannot tell you anything about your family member’s health without that person’s permission, unless you have a durable power of attorney. But they CAN listen to whatever information you want to volunteer.)
Talk with the doctor first. Express your concerns and give concrete examples of problems.
Gently, determine if they realize there is a problem and if they would like help.
If the person becomes paranoid or accuses you of being the one with the problem, back off. Arguing will make matters worse.
Try getting the person to go in for another problem, like a flu shot.
Get the person to accompany you for “your” visit to the doctor.
If the person acknowledges a memory problem, but doesn’t think a doctor can help, say there are new medications. Show an article; post it on the fridge.
Don’t give them advanced notice of an upcoming appointment (which gives ample opportunity to refuse to go.) Simply say, “You’ve got an appointment today.” “Let’s go,” or “The doctor called and said you need to come in.”
Cause for Concern Checklist:
Getting lost in familiar places
Change in personality
Isolation or depression
Persistently confusing family members
Forgetting the year and not accepting correction
Denying or covering up memory difficulties
Persistently unable to express an idea verbally
If you suspect that someone you love has Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), this information may help you decide what to do next.
This information has been adapted from an article written by neuropsychologist, Tedd Judd, Ph.D., ABPP, and reprinted from the Alzheimer’s Society of Washington’s newsletter, December 1998.
A neuropsychological medical workup for dementia includes:
Taking a history of the problems of the cognitive and functional difficulties.
Interview with the person and a family member.
A physical examination and blood tests to help rule out treatable conditions.
A mental examination and test of baseline intellectual abilities, learning abilities, emotional state, verbal fluency, novel problem solving, sensory-perceptual and motor abilities.
A scan of the brain (CT or MRI.)
Unless your family member does not give permission, the doctor should be talking to a family member to:
a) Get information; b) Share results; c) Discuss any potential treatment options; d) Give information about Alzheimer’s Disease; e) Help you plan for the future; f) Put you in touch with community resources.
If you are not getting this help from your physician, request it. If you still are not satisfied, find another doctor who will work with you to help manage the disease.
Getting a diagnosis does take time, but knowing what you are dealing with and the probable course of the disease helps the person and the family make plans for the future.