According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average age in this country has climbed by 3.4 years since 2000. As our population grows older, it only stands to reason that age-related medical issues are on the rise, too. One is Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 6 million people currently live with the disease. That number is projected to soar to 13 million by 2050.
While there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, early interventions may help slow the progression of the disease. These interventions make it important for an older adult to be evaluated early if Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia is suspected.
Early Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease
The symptoms of Alzheimer’s extend beyond the memory loss commonly associated with the disease. Other warning signs that might indicate a problem include:
- Developing changes in personality or disposition
- Struggling with insomnia or other chronic sleep problems
- Becoming lost in once familiar places
- Forgetting appointments or important dates
- Having trouble performing tasks that require abstract thought
- Experiencing difficulty with written or verbal communication skills
- Misplacing commonly used items, such as car keys and glasses
If a senior loved one is experiencing more than one of these changes, it might be time to schedule a physical with their primary care physician. It might not be Alzheimer’s disease at all. The changes could be the result of conditions that mimic dementia, like an infection or vitamin deficiency.
Methods to Diagnose Alzheimer’s
After a senior’s doctor has ruled out other potential medical conditions, they might start to consider Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia. Many people are surprised to learn that a test to diagnose this disease does not exist. Instead, diagnosis is a process of identifying symptoms and eliminating other potential causes. The process of testing for Alzheimer’s includes:
- Taking a medical history: If your parent hasn’t been to the doctor in a while, they’ll likely want an updated medical history. They will probably ask questions about health conditions that run in the family, as well as lifestyle choices. Diet, alcohol consumption, smoking, and exercise are a few they’ll want to learn more about. It’s also helpful if you write down the concerning changes you noticed in your family member. Think about how long ago you first noticed symptoms and if they seem to be getting worse.
- Performing a physical exam: The senior’s doctor or medical assistant will take their blood pressure, temperature, and pulse. They might check reflexes, too. The physician will also assess the older adult’s memory and problem-solving skills with a series of questions or problems to solve. These evaluate memory, reasoning, judgment, attention span, and language skills.
- Ordering blood tests: To rule out a thyroid disorder, an infection, or vitamin deficiencies, the doctor will order blood work. They might also order a urine test. Because a number of conditions mimic Alzheimer’s, it’s important to eliminate them before moving on with other testing.
- Screening for depression: Depression is another illness that can present like Alzheimer’s, especially among older people. So much so that it is sometimes referred to as pseudodementia. The physician may conduct a depression screening or refer the older adult to a mental health expert.
- Arranging for brain imaging tests: Brain scans will be ordered. These can show if the brain is shrinking while also looking for other potential causes of the troubling symptoms. A brain aneurysm, tumor, fluid, or stroke are just a few issues that can be detected with imaging.
- Ordering a spinal tap: In 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved biomarker tests for Alzheimer’s disease that have been used with success in Europe. Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is collected through a spinal tap and then sent to the lab for evaluation.
Based on their findings, the primary care doctor will determine if the reported symptoms are linked to some form of dementia or if there is another underlying medical issue.
Experts in Dementia Care
While a diagnosis of dementia is difficult to hear, there are options that allow a senior to live a better quality of life. Some families find in-home care to be a helpful short-term solution. Others find a move to an assisted living community that also offers memory care is a better solution.
Heritage Senior Communities offer levels of care for adults at all stages of dementia. We encourage you to call the community nearest you to learn more today!