Senior Care Medical Advances: Diagnosing Early-Onset Dementia

While the vast majority of people suffering from dementia are aged 65 or older, there is growing evidence that some forms of dementia affect people much younger than 65. For instance, about 5 percent of Alzheimer’s sufferers are classified as early-onset, meaning their symptoms began prior to age 65.

Talk with your doctor about new types of testing available for the diagnosis of dementia.

Most early-onset dementia comes in the form of one of two diseases: Alzheimer’s or frontotemporal dementia (FTD). Other diseases may cause early-onset dementia as well, including Parkinson’s disease, vascular dementia, and Lewy body dementia.

The Importance of Early Diagnosis for Dementia

Whether your loved one is suffering from early-onset dementia or the more common dementia associated with being 65 or older, early diagnosis of dementia is essential. In the case of early-onset dementia, it may be that the dementia sufferer is still trying to hold down a job, care for children of his or her own, and care for aging parents.

WebMD’s “Early Onset Alzheimer’s: When Symptoms Begin Before Age 65” notes about the importance of early diagnosis: “Accurate diagnosis is critical so that you can explain your condition to your employer and perhaps arrange a lighter workload or more convenient schedule. For family reasons it is even more crucial. The diagnosis is fundamental in helping the family respond with appropriate understanding and compassion. In addition, a complete evaluation will rule out reversible forms of dementia that might improve with treatment.”

Diagnosis of Dementia Made Possible by a Variety of Tests

Next Avenue’s “Progress Made in Diagnosing Early-Onset Dementia” lists a variety of testing methods currently in use to diagnose dementia early on.

As researchers compile more data about the markers of dementia, new testing methods are designed and old testing methods are refined. For instance, while analysis of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) has been around for decades, this form of testing has been refined as researchers have discovered more about the ranges and ratios of the marker proteins of the different dementias.

Simple written or oral cognitive tests have been refined as well. For example, recently developed tests to measure social cognition are helping physicians determine whether a patient is suffering from FTD or Alzheimer’s. In these newer social cognition tests, a patient is presented with a line-up of faces depicting different emotions. The patient is asked to identify the emotion represented. FTD sufferers typically have more difficulty interpreting the emotions displayed than do patients suffering with Alzheimer’s.

Another promising area of research into diagnostic procedures to detect dementia is PET scans. New radioactive tracers injected into the patient bind to a specific protein related to dementia. The PET scan then measures how much of the protein has accumulated in the brain and where it has accumulated, giving physicians and researchers one more piece of the dementia puzzle.

Special memory care units that support dementia patients appropriately are part of many assisted living communities.

Finding Appropriate Care Settings for Dementia Patients

If you or a loved one is suffering from dementia, it is important to make plans for long-term care. In many cases, dementia patients reach a point in their disease where 24/7 care is needed. Assisted living communities with special memory care units can provide a safe and comfortable environment for those with dementia.

To find an assisted living community in your area that includes a specialized memory care unit, why not speak to a care advisor today?

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