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Neurology - Alzheimers

Houston, Texas

The Cullen Building at Baylor College of Medicine.
Department of Neurology
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Importance of Early Diagnosis and Treatment

Alzheimer's disease is a diagnosable and treatable condition. By applying standardized diagnostic criteria, a diagnosis of AD can be made with greater than 90% accuracy. In fact, the current diagnostic process is capable of detecting very subtle changes in thinking or memory which may actually precede the clinical onset of AD. Once diagnosed, AD can be effectively treated with Food and Drug Administration approved medications capable of stabilizing the symptoms of AD for several years.

By seeking evaluation early, other possible causes of memory or thinking problems can be identified and properly treated. Identifying the presence of AD early on prevents misdiagnosis and unnecessary, sometimes costly or invasive work-ups, procedures, or medications. For example, patients with AD are sometimes started unnecessarily on an anti-depressant medication before the correct diagnosis is made.

If a diagnosis is made early on in the course of the disease, the patient and supportive others are given the opportunity to educate themselves about the condition. In turn, they are able to make informed choices and plan effectively for the future. Patients and caregivers can identify and make use of supportive services for those affected by AD, which is critical for long term management. Potential safety issues can be avoided before a crisis develops, and important social needs can be met if the condition is diagnosed early. Early diagnosis also ensures that the person with AD remains an active participant in their care by voicing preferences about important medical and financial issues, and appointing powers of attorney to ensure those preferences are upheld.

Because the current medications available for AD are intended to stabilize a patient's level of cognitive functioning at the time the medications are started, the earlier a diagnosis is made and treatment initiated, the better.

From a socio-economic standpoint, early diagnosis and treatment are cost effective. By diagnosing and stabilizing the condition at the earliest sign of difficulty, an individual is capable of functioning in much the same way he or she always has for a longer time. The use of specialized AD services, such as day activity programs, companion/escort or personal assistant services, home care, assisted living or nursing home services, or general medical care costs may be postponed or, in the case of diagnosis at a very advanced age, avoided in large part.

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