Aug 1, 2011

Getting the Diagnosis of Alzheimer's or Another Type of Dementia

By Cindy Keith

I believe if you’re reading this article in the Alzheimer’s Reading Room, then you have already experienced the devastating diagnosis of dementia, either for yourself, or for a loved one.

You are now on that journey through dementia that nobody wishes to take, but I hope you can pat yourself on the back for taking the initiative to learn more about the disease and about how you can make your life, and the life of your loved one happier, and safer.

If you have not yet received the diagnosis, but are very fearful that this is what you might be facing, then again, pat yourself on the back for taking that first, small step toward getting a diagnosis.

It’s crucial that the person experiencing the symptoms be evaluated in order to rule out a whole host of other diseases or syndromes that will mimic Alzheimer’s. Wouldn’t that be wonderful to finally get to the doctor with the terrifying thought that you or your loved one has Alzheimer’s only to be told after testing that it’s a Vitamin B12 deficiency and you need to take B12 for shots the rest of your life, and when you do that, the symptoms go away!

If the diagnosis is Alzheimer’s or some other type of dementia, then you can move forward with some plans for how to manage your life. Medications that can help delay the symptoms can be started earlier, and you can begin to plan for ways to provide a good quality of life for yourself or your loved one. So, it’s very important to just take that step and ask the doctor for a “dementia work-up.” Be sure to take a list of troubling symptoms you’re observing, or bring a friend or family member with you who is aware of the changes. Many times, the person experiencing the forgetfulness does not have a great deal of insight as to just how bad it has become.

You need to become aware of just what behaviors you can expect to see with this particular type of dementia. For example, if the diagnosis is Lewy Body dementia, then you will not see the typical short term memory loss in the early stages that you see with Alzheimer’s.

With this type of dementia, the cognitive problems can fluctuate on a daily or weekly basis. They may not appear to have any type of dementia for weeks, when suddenly they appear to again have increased confusion for days or weeks. How can they suddenly forget how to use the phone one day and able to use it just fine the next day? Also, with LBD, they will begin to experience motor problems that come and go and many people (and doctors) mistake this for symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Again, one day, week or month, they can walk just fine, and then suddenly they fall three times in one day because they can’t get their feet to do what they want them to do.

A diagnosis of some type of dementia such as Alzheimer’s will certainly seem like the end of the world and indeed, it will be the end of your world as you now know it.

Please believe there still can be happiness and laughter on that dementia journey. It will be hard, and it will be heartbreaking, but continue to reach out for help in the many forms it can come to you.

Welcome friends and family who wish to help you, and please, please, please start attending a caregiver support group. It will be one of the best decisions you can make for yourself and your loved one.

So go ahead, take that next big step and get the diagnosis, and then decide to keep moving forward. I’ll be here to help you on your journey, as will many, many others and you are never alone unless you choose to be.

Cindy Keith, RN, BS, CDP has extensive experience working with Alzheimer's and dementia patients in different settings including in homes and in care facilities. As a nationally known speaker, Cindy regularly travels throughout the United States giving day-long seminars on the importance of facility staff training in all aspects of dementia care. Cindy an be reached through M.I.N.D. in Memory Care.

More Insight and Advice for Caregivers

The Alzheimer’s Action Plan: The Experts’ Guide to the Best Diag­no­sis and Treat­ment for Mem­ory Prob­lems
The 36-Hour Day A Family Guide to Caring for People with Alzheimer Disease

Original content the Alzheimer's Reading Room