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Misdiagnosing Alzheimer's

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    Talk to Your Health Care Provider When Alzheimer's Becomes a Concern

    According to the Alzheimer’s Association, every 67 seconds someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s disease. However, there are many who go undiagnosed, believing that the symptoms they are experiencing are normal aging. “Of the estimated more than five million people living with Alzheimer’s disease, roughly half do not receive a diagnosis,” said Heather Snyder, PhD, Director of Medical & Scientific Operations at the Alzheimer’s Association. “One of the challenges that we have is to continue to raise awareness and talk about Alzheimer’s disease so that we can drive people to talk to their health care provider when there is a concern.”

    For some, their memory loss may not actually be dementia. Memory issues can be caused by:

    • side effect from medication
    • chronic stress
    • malfunctioning thyroid
    • traumatic brain injury
    • normal aging
    • hearing problems
    • depression

    However, memory problems are not the only sign of Alzheimer’s. Symptoms can include mood changes as well as difficulty managing financial matters. There is a subtle difference between changes in thinking and behavior as people age versus the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia.

    “Typically, if an individual goes in for a full workup with cognitive screening, including a blood panel that can look for a hormonal imbalance or dietary issues, they can get an accurate diagnosis,” said Dr. Snyder. “It’s important to go through that process to find out whether it’s Alzheimer’s or not.”

    But it has happened when individuals get misdiagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. There are cases of people who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and after further testing were found to have a treatable illness, but these are not widespread. The Honolulu-Asia Aging Study, an ongoing study that began in 1991, found there was a misdiagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease one-third of the time.

    “There could be multiple things going on,” said Dr. Snyder. “If you have concerns about the care you or a loved one is receiving or about changes that may be going on, get a second opinion.”

    Advantages of An Early Diagnosis 

    An early and accurate diagnosis can be beneficial to both the individual, as well as their loved ones. The National Institute on Aging lists the following advantages of an early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease:

    • an opportunity to make plans for the future
    • a chance to choose living arrangements
    • a time for taking care of financial and legal affairs
    • begin treatment to help preserve function for some time
    • develop support networks

    Learn more about risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease, how it is diagnosed, how to participate in clinical trials, and more at the National Institute on Aging website or the Alzheimer’s Association website.

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