Photo Credit: Peter Sheik
“If only we’d known sooner!” Providing at-home care for people living with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, we often see that regretful sentiment in the primary family caregiver. Presently, diagnosis requires a full battery of testing; doctors look at medical history, results from tests for mental status and a complete physical exam. It’s important to rule out other causes of dementia-like symptoms that could be caused by other illnesses, wrongly prescribed medication or other factors.
Adding further to the difficulty of getting an ‘early warning’ for Alzheimer’s disease, people may try to cover up symptoms out of misplaced embarrassment. When a diagnosis does finally come, the primary family caregiver can feel guilt. They see how their parent or other relative has been living, after being unable to take care of basic functions like going for groceries, getting dressed or taking care of personal hygiene. They regret that they weren’t able to give their loved one the help they needed until the situation reached an intolerable state. They can feel as though they weren’t there for their loved one when they were needed, even if a medical professional might have had difficulty generating a definite diagnosis in the early stages.
We’re hopeful that this kind of situation will be more rare, sooner than later. Some medical research that is increasingly devoted to Alzheimer’s care sounds promising, like this research for an Alzheimer’s early-detection eye test reported by the BBC:
The new study uses specially-developed computer software to analyse high-definition images of the eye from multiple instruments to establish whether such changes in the eye could act as an early indicator of Alzheimer’s disease.
They’re still in the early stages with this – but that’s not the only method scientists are trying. A blood test being developed by the National Institute on Aging in the USA is showing promise in detecting the disease a full decade before it could show up thanks to other clinical methods.
I could easily point to a dozen such initiatives going on in the USA, Canada and beyond; the point is that while a lot of this research is in early stages, we’re seeing a trend of more support for this research. It’s good to see that society in general is now taking this challenge seriously.
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease – but as we’ve often seen with our at-home care dementia clients, early detection can make a huge difference in their quality of life. Once you know there’s a problem, you can take steps to ensure that they eat right, stay active and get the help they need. We can’t cure Alzheimer’s (yet) – but we can make sure our mothers, fathers, spouses and other loved relatives live with in comfort and dignity.