Alzheimer's: why early detection is important

Globally, Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia in older people. It affects memory, judgement and cognition, and is severely debilitating.

There’s no cure or proven means of preventing this devastating disease. And, as the world’s population ages, more and more people are affected. Early detection is important for a number of reasons.

Did you know?

• Over 321,600 Australians are living with dementia.
• The current number is expected to rise to 400,000 in less than 10 years.
• Without a medical breakthrough, almost 900,000 Australians will have dementia by 2050.
• 1,700 new cases of dementia are reported in Australia every week (one person every six minutes).
• An estimated 7,400 new cases will be reported every week by 2050.
• Approximately 24,400 Australians have younger-onset dementia (under the age of 60).
• One in four people over the age of 85 has dementia.
• An estimated 1.2 million Australians are caring for someone with dementia.
• Dementia is the third leading cause of death in Australia.
• On average, symptoms are noticed three years before a firm diagnosis is made.

While there’s no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, clinicians are encouraging people to adopt a physically and mentally active lifestyle to reduce their risk of developing the condition later in life. They’re also advocating for early detection/diagnosis.

With such a grim prognosis, you might be wondering what the benefits of early Alzheimer’s detection could be?

Benefits of early detection
Here are a few of the reasons why you should consult a doctor the moment you or a loved starts to display dementia-like symptoms:

• More time to learn
You’ll have more time to learn about the disease and what to expect down the line.

• Medication is more effective
Existing drugs are most helpful early in the early stages of the disease – they’re aimed at maintaining current functioning, and thus slowing the disease process, rather than reversing the symptoms.

• Clinical trial opportunities
Most clinical trials are only open to people in the early stages of the disease, as many of the new drugs are being targeted at the early stages of dementia.

• Rule out treatable/reversible dementia
There are many other forms of dementia that display similar symptoms to Alzheimer’s disease, but which are reversible and treatable with early detection.

• Reap the rewards of non-drug interventions
There’s some evidence that non-drug interventions such as physical and mental exercise can help slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Early detection will mean you’ll have more time to reap the benefits.

• Improved safety
An early diagnosis gives the person with Alzheimer’s disease more time to identify and address safety concerns.

• Disability allowances
If you’re still working and you’re in the early stages of the disease, you may still be entitled to draw disability benefits.

• The power to plan
Early diagnosis allows someone with Alzheimer’s disease to plan the rest of their life, and the different stages of the disease. This can include, among other actions, designating a medical and financial power of attorney, drawing up a living will, stipulating home-care rules and deciding what kind of care facility would be their first choice.

• Less of a burden
Decisions and planning made by the individual means there’ll be less strain on the family or caregivers, who often have to make difficult decisions when the person reaches the advanced stage of dementia.

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