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Early, accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is key to providing best treatment outcomes

 Life Healthcare, one of South Africa’s leading hospital groups and private mental health service providers encourages education and understanding of Alzheimer’s disease this World Alzheimer’s Day (21 September). Early and accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer’s can delay disease progression.

Over 44 million people suffer from Alzheimer’s disease worldwide, with a new case being diagnosed every four seconds. Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and eventually the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. In most people with Alzheimer’s, symptoms first appear in their mid-sixties.

“Patients affected by ranging severities of Alzheimer’s disease may have affected thought and action processing abilities. This impedes their daily lives as simple tasks become more challenging to perform,”

explains Dr. Ryan Fuller, a psychogeriatrician at Life New Kensington Clinic.

Early symptoms of dementia vary, however, there are a few indicators of early onset dementia that a patients loved ones can look for.

“In the early stages of dementia, patients may experience short term memory impairment associated with word and direction finding problems. In addition, the patient may ask questions repetitively and have difficulty managing tasks that are familiar to them,”

explains Dr. Fuller.

Alzheimer’s disease affects the medial temporal lobes on the sides of the brain that control short-term memory and speech. This causes the attachments between the neurons to deteriorate and die. This cell death is associated with the decline in cognition and memory experienced by patients.

The most significant risk of Alzheimer’s disease is advancing age, but it should not be considered a common occurrence once a person has reached a certain age.

“Alzheimer’s disease is not a result of age specifically and many people age without suffering from dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is a result of various genetic, physical, and environmental risk factors that all contribute to the diagnosis of the disease,”

explains Dr. Fuller.

Due to the complexity of the disease, there is no simple diagnostic test that can immediately confirm if a patient has Alzheimer’s disease.

“We do know that the brain pathology of Alzheimer’s disease starts several decades before the symptoms of the disease start to present themselves. This makes early diagnosis critical in the effective treatment of the disease,”

says Dr. Fuller.

Alzheimer’s disease is a chronic disease and although major advances have been made in effectively treating it, there is no cure.

“Cognitive enhancers have proven to be successful in alleviating the associated symptoms such as anxiety, irritability and agitation. Anti-depressants have also proven to assist treating the mood disorders frequently associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Medication that is carefully prescribed can relieve the non-cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s in fifty to seventy percent of patients,”

says Dr. Fuller.

Alzheimer’s disease is a traumatic condition that causes confusion and fear in the sufferer. It is important to treat those diagnosed with the disease with dignity and respect at all times. “Don’t contradict an Alzheimer sufferer as this will heighten their anxiety. It is also important that the patient remains involved in decisions that will affect their treatment and care.

Life Rehabilitation in partnership with Life Mental Health offer specialised neuro-geriatric programmes at selected Life Healthcare acute physical rehabilitation and mental health facilities. These facilities provide specialist services to people typically older than 50 years of age who experience challenges in memory, mood, mental health and activities of daily living. A team approach ensures a thorough assessment so that several clinical tools are correlated to ensure high quality diagnosis and management. Early and accurate diagnosis is key to providing the best treatment outcomes.

If you suspect that you or someone you know may be experiencing Alzheimer’s symptoms or need urgent support email rehab.headoffice@lifehealthcare.co.za

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