November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Month and it is an ideal time for family caregivers to learn more about this progressive disease that erodes a person’s memory and diminishes their overall mental functions. Awareness campaigns like this are designed to educate individuals and communities about the disease and provide opportunities for education, advocacy and to connect with valuable resources for support and treatment.
Alzheimer’s disease affects more than 5 million Americans and it is estimated that more than 15 million people provide unpaid caregiving services to them. It’s easy to see that Alzheimer’s disease affects a significant number of people across the country. The good news is that treatment of the disease has improved thanks to effective medicines and early detection.
But how does a doctor diagnose Alzheimer’s disease in elderly adults?
Currently, there is no single test that can diagnose Alzheimer’s disease. Instead, doctors make the diagnosis after analyzing the symptoms as reported by the individual, family caregivers and others who interact with the aging adult. They may conduct other tests to eliminate other options. These tests are a blend of neurological examinations and physical examinations. Doctors want to learn more about an elderly person’s muscle tone, coordination, balance, sense of hearing and overall reflexes.
What will the doctor do?
Other assessments that a doctor might give to a person suspected of having Alzheimer’s disease include different types of neurological testing and assessments. These are designed to assess memory recall and cognitive ability. They can compare mental functioning with others of similar age and pinpoint any abnormalities. Blood tests and other physical checks can be done to rule out any other medical cause for the symptoms the elderly adult is experiencing.
Advances in brain imaging now help doctors look for abnormalities that may be caused by Alzheimer’s disease or put the focus on any other medical issues, like strokes or tumors. Elderly adults may be asked to undergo an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), CT (computerized tomography) or PET (positron emission tomography). Because there are other illnesses and diseases that can trigger cognitive change, doctors want to look at all the options before making a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. As new diagnostic tools emerge, doctors may be able to detect it even earlier.
Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of dementia in elderly adults.
It starts out with mild symptoms and gradually gets worse over time. The progression of the disease is divided into three stages, early, middle and late. Depending on overall health and wellness, elderly people progress through these stages differently. Symptoms in each stage may overlap, but with an official diagnosis from a doctor, treatment can begin based on how far along a person is.
During National Alzheimer’s Disease Month, it’s important for anyone affected by this disease to do what they can to educate and empower the elderly and their caregivers. Researchers are working hard to develop better ways to diagnose and treat Alzheimer’s disease, with the eventual goal being that it can be identified early and treated effectively.
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Providing Home Care in Highland, Utah and Surrounding Communities. 801-427-ROSE (7673)
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