Today, Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Is Earlier Detection of Alzheimer's Now Possible?

Is Earlier Detection of Alzheimers Now Possible?

Alzheimers detection is vital to the patient’s survival. The disease is a devastating brain disorder; it is being found in an ever increasing number of people. Millions of people currently suffer with it and recent reports indicate that someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s every 70 seconds. As the seventh-leading cause of death, the efforts to find a cure have been increased, but as of yet, only treatment for the symptoms exists. The key to the effectiveness of any treatment is administering it in the early stages of the disease.

Alzheimer’s and Aging

One of the problems with Alzheimer’s is that many of the symptoms are similar to natural signs of aging. Additionally, an early detection may be difficult because unlike other diseases, it does not show up in a blood or urine test. Although it may be common for people to experience a certain slowing in memory retrieval or have some confusion, people with Alzheimers, do not simply have the brain slowing down or changing; it is a result of the brain cells failing. 

Gradually, the symptoms of Alzheimer’s build, getting steadily worse, until the patient is finally diagnosed. Often times, it is too late for successful treatment because too much damage has already occurred. The best opportunity for combating Alzheimer’s is in the first four stages of its progression. Doctors and scientists highly recommend knowing the signs, and seeing a specialist as soon as possible. Fortunately, there is hope in new studies that show a possible way to confirm the presence of Alzheimers disease, even in its earliest stages. 

Word Tests

There are no clinical tests that can be done to diagnose Alzheimer’s, so the main area of detection focuses on how people recall words. Specifically, this type of analysis targets the words that are learned later on in life instead of basic words, such as “dog” and “cat.” People with Alzheimer’s have trouble remembering words like, “tiger” and “monkey.” This leads to a relatively basic test of word retention in order to determine if Alzheimer’s is present. 

One theory for why this type of testing works is that the area of the brain affected the most by Alzheimers is the same area that controls word loss. The studies have uncovered an interesting pattern of consistency that relates loss of vocabulary with Alzheimers. This is a major breakthrough because it separates early symptoms from general memory loss, giving doctors the ability to distinguish it from the normal aging process. 

An example of the word tests used in early Alzheimers detection is for a group of people, similar in age and condition, to name all of the animals they can think of in a one-minute time period. In this case, the people all had comparable backgrounds and cultural exposure. The one difference between them is that some had already been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and the others were healthy. By almost a two to one margin, the healthy group was able to list significantly more words than the Alzheimer’s group, revealing the link between the disease and word loss. 

Besides testing for the recollection of animal names, another popular exercise is for a person to list types of fruit. Anything that someone has learned after the age of 5, but is still considered to be basic knowledge, is a candidate for testing Alzheimers. The ability to solve mazes and other puzzles may also be examined as a way to measure the cognitive state of a person. Again, it is imperative to understand that general memory loss is not a definite sign of Alzheimer’s. 

Family History

In addition to word tests, a doctor should look at a patient’s family and genetic background. Relatives with dementia in particular are especially noteworthy. If other family members have had dementia or other associated diseases, the age of onset and severity of symptoms for them are studied. People with a genetic predisposition towards Alzheimer’s only have a slightly higher probability of developing the disease. Studies now show that there are many other factors that can trigger the onset. These include: stress, diet, and environment. Knowledge of family history can be very helpful in alerting individuals to look for early signs for Alzheimers detection and treatment.

Other Detection Methods

The level of memory loss and confusion still remains the most prevalent and troubling symptom of Alzheimer’s. A number of tests have been developed to look at how much a person has forgotten. For example, a specialist may show afflicted individuals pictures of well-known people, or even family members. While it can be normal to forget facts and faces as we age, most people will still recognize those closest to them, such as siblings, children, and grandchildren.  

Although clinical tests cannot accurately diagnose Alzheimer’s, blood and urine tests can help doctors rule out other diseases that may be causing symptoms. This is necessary because other diseases or conditions also share the same symptoms as Alzheimer’s. Routine tests can narrow down the options and lead to an early detection. 

Benefits of Early Detection

If Alzheimer’s is diagnosed early enough, it opens up options for the patient that would not otherwise be available. One incredible advantage is that individuals with Alzheimer’s are able to provide input about treatment selections and let their doctor know their preferences. Individuals can also guide family members about what they should do when it is time to take away the drivers license, move their loved one to assisted living and so forth. 

Medication provides the greatest symptom relief during early stages of the disease. The decision about which treatment to use is critical. A person will also have more time to deal with the emotional impact of the disease. It has been scientifically proven that a patient’s emotional state can have a strong influence on overall health. 

Future studies are aimed at finding ways to prevent the irreversible brain damage of Alzheimer’s; another advantage to an early diagnosis. Researchers are hopeful that they will actually have the capacity to stop diseases like Alzheimer’s if they can treat them in time. In general, the earlier a disease is detected, the longer the patient has to fight it, prolonging their life, and improving the quality of it.  

What to Look for

Alzheimer’s typically affects people over the age of 65. It is more common in women, and the symptoms are hardly noticeable at first. They may include a slight change in personality and impaired intelligence or vision. As the disease progresses, physical symptoms will also develop, but not until the later stages. An impaired gait is one such physical symptom. Early Alzheimers detection is critical to the success of treatment; it can be the difference between a quality life and rapid decline.

Resources - Alzheimer’s Association - Psych Central

References - ABPI - About - Alzheimer’s Association - Alzheimer’s Association - Alzheimer’s Association

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