Early detection by family members and friends
When Alzheimer's disease begins affecting the brain of someone you care about, chances are you won't notice any obvious signs or symptoms. After a while, though, small memory lapses appear and, over time, they grow more serious. The person may forget things they used to know like the names of familiar people or places, the words to express what they want to say, or the location of everyday objects.
Recognising the warning signs early is important for a number of reasons:
- The doctor may determine that the symptoms are from another disease or condition that is curable. If, for example, the dementia is caused by a brain tumour, the right treatment can begin, sooner
- If the diagnosis is Alzheimer's disease, you and the person you care about can start to address long-term planning and decision-making together, while they're still capable of doing so
- Medications that treat the symptoms of the disease work best when taken in the early stages
The important role of family and friends
Due to the nature of the condition, a person with Alzheimer's disease may have a difficult time assessing changes in their own abilities over time. That's why family and friends familiar with the person's habits play a key role in the detection of the disease. Because of this, doctors have come to rely on their ability to detect and report changes in behaviour, mood, memory or thinking in someone with the disease. Keeping a symptom diary – like the one available on this website – may help in tracking and reporting these changes.
Why you may find yourself hesitating
It's difficult to see someone you care for struggling or feeling uncomfortable. That's why family members are often reluctant to acknowledge that there is a problem. And that's only natural.
In fact, there are a variety of reasons why family members may avoid accompanying a loved one with Alzheimer's disease to the doctor, including:
- Their lack of knowledge of Alzheimer's disease
- The fact that they do not think (or want to think) that their loved one's changing behaviour is part of an illness
- Feeling unable to describe the symptoms they're seeing
- Feeling overwhelmed with grief, loss and the prospect of the changing relationship with the person
- Being afraid that the diagnosis will actually be Alzheimer's disease
Many family members have reported that prior to diagnosis they were nearly overcome with anxiety watching their loved one deteriorate. Then, once they actually received a diagnosis, they felt a great sense of relief that they could finally put a name to the disease and move forward with a plan of care. That's what you need to focus on, because if it does turn out to be Alzheimer's disease, the sooner you speak to a doctor, the sooner treatment can begin. And that can maximise the quality time you have together.