According to the 2013 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey, 10.4 percent of Vermonters aged 45 and over report they are experiencing confusion or memory loss that is happening more often or is getting worse. Despite the concern, nearly three-quarters of them report they have not talked to a health care professional about it.
Some of the early warning signs include:
- Memory changes that disrupt daily life
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks
- Withdrawal from work or social activities
- Changes in mood and personality
(To learn more, visit Know the 10 Signs: Early Detection Matters)
If you notice these warning signs, it is important to share your concerns with your health care provider. Having trouble with your memory does not mean you have Alzheimer’s. Many health issues can cause problems with memory and thinking. Some dementia-like symptoms are caused by treatable conditions such as depression, medication interactions, thyroid problems or certain vitamin deficiencies. No matter what the diagnosis turns out to be, talking with your provider and getting an early diagnosis is critical. For something like a stroke or brain tumor, a diagnosis could save a life!
There is no single test to determine whether or not someone has Alzheimer’s disease. It can be difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of memory changes, so a full medical exam is necessary for diagnosis. This exam often includes:
- Medical history– review of current health conditions, medications, and family health history. Mental status evaluation- to assess memory, communication and sense of time and place.
- A physical examination–
- Evaluation of the nutrition, blood pressure and pulse.
- Examination to test balance and other functions of the nervous system.
- A brain scan to detect other causes of dementia such as stroke or tumor.
Benefits of Early Diagnosis
Although there is currently no viable medical treatment to prevent or cure Alzheimer’s, an early diagnosis allows those with dementia and their families:
- A better chance of benefiting from treatment
- More time to plan for the future
- Increased chances of participating in clinical drug trials, helping advance research
- An opportunity to participate in decisions about care, living options, financialand legal matters
- Time to develop a relationship with doctors and care partners
Preparing for your visit
The Alzheimer’s Association offers helpful tools for preparing for doctor’s appointments. Such tools include:
- Important questions to ask at your appointment
- A medication log for keeping track of prescriptions, doses, allergies and other important information
- A care log to be used by care partners to track changes memory, mood and behavior
Ways to become involved:
- The Alzheimer’s Association offers in-person support groups and educational programs dedicated to helping Vermonters through every stage of the disease. (Learn more about upcoming programs in your community.)
- Join us in September for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s! Start your own team today!
Pamela Beidler MSHCA, is Vermont Director of Programs and Outreach at the Alzheimer’s Association. She is a Certified Dementia Practitioner with a passion for working with our community’s most vulnerable populations and finding ways to empower individuals through health education.