By Shirley Newell
At first, it might seem inconsequential, misplaced keys, a forgotten appointment or briefly getting lost. But over time it continues and you become come suspicious, wondering if you should reach out for help. There are no easy answers, but there are many organizations with guidelines and support to help you. Plus, new research and expanded care options offer hope.
Dementia is a catch-all term that encompasses dozens of conditions, including Alzheimer’s and other diseases of the brain. The main symptom is typically memory loss, generally accompanied by a progressive loss of the ability to function independently or safely. The question many ask is when to reach out for help and what to do with a positive diagnosis.
The first difficult step is to acknowledge that there may be an issue. In addition to memory loss and confusion, there may be impaired reasoning and judgement, or changes in personality such as agitation or withdrawal. There are detailed lists available on the Alzheimer’s Organization website (www.Alzheimer’s.Org).
It’s important to remember that it’s normal to experience fear or denial when you are confronted with this potential reality. The important thing to realize is knowledge will empower you and help you make decisions.
The next step is to educate yourself and talk with a health care professional. An excellent resource is the Dementia Road Map: A Guide for Family and Care Partners. This tool takes patients and caregivers in all stages of cognitive decline though action steps and questions from the early stages of concern to late-stage dementia.
It is also important to “get checked” by your primary care provider who, if not skilled at clarifying a diagnosis, should be able to refer you to a specialist for further testing. A diagnosis of dementia can come as a shock, but there are benefits to identifying memory loss in the initial stages. Some conditions are treatable, so finding a cause early is critical in these cases.
Also, a diagnosis can aid health care professionals in providing better clinical care, especially early in the disease. Plus, family members and loved ones can arrange support and plan for the future.
Help is out there. The important thing is to learn all you can and to seek assistance — early and often. Even though the challenges of dementia are increasing in society, support is as well.
Dr. Shirley Newell is the chief medical officer at Aegis Living.