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Alzheimer’s disease: the importance of early diagnosis

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By derivative work: Garrondo (talk)SEVERESLICE_HIGH.JPG: ADEAR: "Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral Center, a service of the National Institute on Aging."PRECLINICALSLICE_HIGH.JPG: ADEAR: "Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral Center, a service of the National Institute on Aging." (SEVERESLICE_HIGH.JPGPRECLINICALSLICE_HIGH.JPG) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Since 1983, November has been designated by presidential proclamation to be National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. The disease is characterized by a type of dementia that results in progressive memory loss, disorientation and changes to the personality. Today in the United States, more than 5.7 million people are living with Alzheimer’s, while 16.1 million serve as unpaid caregivers for those afflicted with it.

Alzheimer’s disease cannot be prevented or cured. However, the earlier individuals are diagnosed, the more likely they are to live rewarding and productive lives for many years to come. Here are three benefits of early diagnosis.

Treatments are more effective. The medications currently available for Alzheimer’s are known to be more effective in the disease’s preliminary stages. If Alzheimer’s is caught early, medications can be administered right away and possibly slow down its progression.

Early access to information and support can be gained. Once diagnosed, afflicted individuals can seek out resources to help them learn about the disease and what to expect in the months and years ahead. Support groups are also available for people living with Alzheimer’s.

Individuals and their families can prepare for the future. Early diagnosis allows afflicted individuals to play an active role in making important medical, financial and end-of-life decisions before the disease progresses too far.

If signs of dementia are observed, it’s best to see a doctor as soon as possible. Some forms of cognitive decline share similarities with Alzheimer’s but can be treated or even reversed if caught early enough. In all cases, the sooner a diagnosis can be reached, the better the outcome for the patient.

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