Latimer: Still learning about Alzheimer’s disease

Due to fear about the prognosis of Alzheimer's disease, many people wait too long to speak to their doctor.

I have written several columns in the past few months focusing on various aspects of Alzheimer’s as well as research into new treatment possibilities.

At times I may have sounded pessimistic on the subject because we still have so much to learn.

We have yet to develop a treatment that can stop or significantly slow the progression of dementia in Alzheimer’s patients and we still don’t understand how we can prevent it from occurring in the first place.

Because of this and also due to fear about the prognosis of this degenerative condition, many people wait too long to speak to their doctor if they suspect themselves or loved ones are experiencing the early signs of Alzheimer’s.

It is easy to think that if there is not much to be done to slow or stop the condition, what is the point of getting scared by an official diagnosis.

Although these feelings are certainly understandable, there are many benefits to early diagnosis and management of this disease. Early diagnosis gives patients and their families some resources and support as they face an unknown future.

Not only can it be reassuring to learn more about the specific type of dementia you’re facing and what its course and difficulties can be, but there are other reasons early diagnosis is helpful. For some people, the earlier a medication is started, the more effective it can be. Also, an early diagnosis can help the individual be more involved in decisions about future care and management of the condition.

Perhaps one of the most important reasons to speak with your doctor early if you believe you’re experiencing symptoms of dementia, is that these symptoms can be caused by illnesses aside from Alzheimer’s. Some of these conditions are treatable and a proper assessment from a doctor can help determine what the true underlying cause of symptoms may be.

Understanding what is known about your condition and accessing available resources and support help to ensure a better quality of life.

Finally, individuals with dementia can advocate on behalf of themselves and others experiencing dementia and even help advance the understanding of Alzheimer’s by participating in clinical trials for potential new treatment.

Although a diagnosis of dementia can seem frightening, it is important to know that there is life even with these symptoms. If you or a loved one think you might be experiencing early signs of dementia, speak with your doctor immediately.

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