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Diagnosis

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Diagnosis: importance of early diagnosis

Alzheimer's tests have become dramatically more sophisticated and accurate over the past decade, allowing for much earlier diagnosis of the disease. And, early detection provides a range of benefits—from treatment advantages to increased opportunities for planning.

TAKE CONTROL

You can do a lot to ease the stress and take control of your life if you get diagnosed early.

You can

Take medications and make dietary and lifestyle changes that may help slow some of the cognitive losses expected.

Find out which medications works best for the most difficult symptoms of Alzheimer's, such as depression, anxiety and agitation.

With help from family, find a new sense of "normal."
Participate in studies that will keep you up-to-date on the latest Alzheimer's treatments, plus provide you with thorough and usually excellent medical care.

Even if the disease is unavoidable, some of the practical consequences, including financial woes and endangering yourself or others, can be prevented.

From The Alzheimer's Action Plan by P. Murali Doraiswamy, MD, and Lisa P. Gwyther, MSW, with Tina Adler. Copyright (c) 2008 by the authors and reprinted by permission of St. Martin's Press.

Treatment Advantages

Medications

Today, no treatment is available to stop Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers are working around the clock to find a cure. Until then, there are prescription drugs that can help treat symptoms associated with the disease.

The most promising treatments are most effective when taken in the early stages of the disease. That’s why it’s so important to get diagnosed early and begin treatment right away.

If you are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, ask your doctor if these drugs might help you. There are pros and cons to taking the prescription medications. They have not been proven to stop Alzheimer’s, but there are many potential benefits and lots of evidence that supports early treatment. The drugs may help to protect against Alzheimer’s-related effects and slow down the mental decline associated with the disease.

Clinical Trials

A clinical trial is a research experiment that tests new drugs or combinations of drugs to see if they are more effective than what is currently available. If you are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, you may be eligible to enroll in a clinical trial testing a new treatment for the disease. Volunteering for a clinical trial is one important way to contribute to Alzheimer’s research.

Ask your doctor about these options. You can also search for possibilities online. Two sources of  information are The National Institute on Aging's Alzheimer's Disease Centers and www.clinicaltrials.gov.  But before joining a study, be sure to consider the risks and side effects, as well as the possible benefits.

Planning for the future

A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is not an on/off switch. One of the most important reasons to get tested early for Alzheimer’s is to have as much time as possible to plan for the future. The nature of the disease is that it gets worse over time. That means that eventually, you won’t be able to articulate your wants, needs and desires for treatment and medical care.

An early diagnosis gives you and your family more time to talk about those issues, while you are still able to make your wishes clear. While the diagnosis may be overwhelming at first, it’s better to face the disease and embrace the opportunity to make decisions about your future. Some of these decisions may be difficult, but having open discussions will benefit not just you, but your entire family.