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How Can We be Certain It's Alzheimer's Disease?

Did you know that over 100 medical conditions produce symptoms similar to Alzheimer's? Additionally, some medications, like those used to treat common conditions such as diabetes, heart burn and high cholesterol, can cause "Alzheimer like" symptoms. Current statistics show that 17 to 30% of patients diagnosed with Alzheimer's were misdiagnosed. Experts caution not to jump too quickly to an Alzheimer's diagnosis.

Let's face it. Many of us are guilty of assuming that the cause of a senior's apparent confusion, forgetfulness or sudden personality change is likely Alzheimer's disease. This faulty assumption could result in misdiagnosis and failure to properly identify and treat the real culprit. Additionally, many seniors may be incorrectly labeled with "Alzheimer's" and "written off" by many. Their mental capacity and ability to manage personal, medical and financial affairs may be called into question, as a result.

How do you make sure that your loved one has received an accurate diagnosis?

Make certain that the appropriate health professional has made the diagnosis. Typically, an interdisciplinary team of a neurologist and geriatric specialist should be consulted to conduct a full evaluation, if Alzheimer's Disease is suspected. A Geriatric Psychiatrist is also helpful in assessing potential memory and thinking problems. A complete medical work-up should be ordered including a physical & neurological exam to assess: reflexes, muscle tone and strength, mobility, senses of sight/hearing, coordination, and balance. The exam should also include a brief, screening level "Mental Status" test which assesses memory and other thinking skills.

Your loved one's medical team should work through a "process of elimination" first to screen for the following underlying conditions that can exhibit "Alzheimer's Like" or dementia symptoms:

1. Infections (ie: Urinary Tract Infections, Cellulitis, Pneumonia)

2. Depression

3.Sudden Change in Blood Pressure

4. Drug Interactions (ie: if patient is taking numerous medications)

5. Sleep Apnea

6. Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus: Normal pressure hydrocephalus or NPH is a condition where cerebral spinal fluid builds up in the brain’s ventricles, resulting in the afflicted person experiencing difficulty walking, dementia and loss of bladder control.

7. Hypothyroidism Low levels of the thyroid growth hormone can cause brain fog, forgetfulness, and depression.

8. Substance Abuse, including alcoholism

9. Nutritional Deficiencies: Most typically of the B vitamin group, Thiamin, niacin, folate and vitamin B-12.

10. Vascular or Multi-Infarct Dementia: MID occurs when blood clots block small blood vessels in the brain and destroy brain tissue. Seniors and those with high blood pressure are at increased risk.

11. Pick's Disease: Progressive disease characterized by marked changes in personality and social skills and later memory loss, difficulty focusing, and speech disturbances.

12.Brain Tumors

Many of these conditions whose symptoms mimic Alzheimer's Disease are treatable. This underscores the necessity of a thorough evaluation before you accept an Alzheimer's diagnosis.

Once possible alternative diagnosis are eliminated, your geriatric specialist may order some tests for further assessment. These will most likely include:

Neuropsychological testing

Your physician may recommend a more extensive assessment of your loved one's thinking and memory. Longer forms of neuropsychological testing, which can take several hours to complete, may provide additional details about mental function compared with others' of a similar age and education level.

Brain imaging

Images of the brain via Cat Scan are now used to identify abnormalities related to conditions other than Alzheimer's disease, such as strokes, trauma or tumors — that may cause cognitive changes. MRI are also typically utilized to rule out conditions that might account for cognitive symptoms. Researchers are currently working towards using MRI to measure the volume of brain tissue and pinpoint whether shrinkage of tissue in brain regions associated with Alzheimer's Disease has occurred. PET Scans can show which areas of a patient's brain are not functioning well. Additionally, PET scanning may be able to identify areas of plaque in the brain which is evident in Alzheimer's patients.

It important to remember that there currently is no absolute, definitive test for detection of Alzheimer's disease. Consulting with a reputable, Geriatric specialist is critical in getting the most accurate diagnosis possible.

Finding the right physician in the Atlanta Metro area...we are fortunate to have a National Institute on Aging funded Alzheimer's Disease Center in town. It is located at the Wesley Woods Health Center of Emory.

Today’s families have very busy lifestyles so many times family members want to help and in many cases try to help but generally it is only a matter of time before it all becomes overwhelming trying to juggle too many tasks at one time. For most just knowing that companies like ours are here when you need support and an extra set of caring hands make the recovery and rehabilitation process less stressful and smooth.

Should you or a loved one need help, call us today 770-442-8664!

Easy Living Services, Inc.

Providing Home Care to Atlanta families since 1994

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