Assessment and diagnosis

Assessment and diagnosis

Contributing Editor

What’s involved in getting a diagnosis of AD or dementia?

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You may be worrying that some forgetful moments are leading to disease rather than aging. Don’t hide your head in the sand.

The earlier you go for a doctor’s checkup, where it can be ruled out (maybe your forgetfulness was Vitamin B deficiency or some other underlying condition), or confirmed, you can begin to work with your doctor to develop strategies for managing it, and plan for the future.

A Personal Story

Catherine Logan was worried about her mom Patricia. “She’d always had numerous friends and lots on the go,” Logan says. “She went swimming two or three times a week for exercise and she was always involved with the church.” Lately, however, Patricia – who lives in Coquitlam, B.C. – showed little enthusiasm for her usual activities.

“I saw a loss of interest in things she had once enjoyed,” says Logan. “And she seemed to be more negative and sad. I thought she might be depressed.”

After consulting the family doctor, Logan and her brother (one of four siblings) teamed up and broached their concerns. To their amazement, the “very strong-willed” Patricia thanked them for caring enough to intervene.

“She knew something was not right,” says Logan. “But she hadn’t gone to the doctor about it because she was really scared.”

She hadn’t gone to the doctor about it because she was really scared.

Patricia, then 76, underwent a doctor’s assessment that included questions intended to tease out the presence of depression and anxiety, as well as the 30-question Mini Mental Status Examination (MMSE) to test for cognitive impairment.

What the doctor saw in the MMSE gave her cause for concern.

“Mom scored well in most of the questions,” says Sheryl Persoon, another of Patricia’s daughters. “The part she struggled with was reading three or four words and then trying to remember them later. She couldn’t.”

The doctor referred Patricia to a geriatric specialist. After two hours of testing, the specialist delivered his conclusion. “I believe you are in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease,” he told her gently.

It was devastating at the time, admits Persoon. But diagnosing Alzheimer’s early has meant that her mother has had time to plan for the future and has had access to drug treatments that aren’t available to people in the later stages.

“We feel very lucky that our doctor was so proactive,” she says.

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Camilla Cornell

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