More than 5 million people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease - most in the advanced stages of Alzheimer's, when it is too late to slow the progress of the disease. Just as heart disease is preceded by years of warning signs, such as increasing blood pressure and cholesterol numbers, Alzheimer's disease and dementia are preceded by years of decline in memory and cognition. If this decline is identified early enough, there is still time to preserve and protect your brain from further decline. According to Dr. Eric Braverman, an expert on brain function, "I have seen many patients experience a complete reversal of memory loss when it is diagnosed and treated in it's early stages."
A simple, but effective, test for the early signs of dementia relies on our ability to identify smells. The ability to identify aromas is diminished in Alzheimer's patients, and researchers have narrowed the list of scents to just ten that have been shown to be the most accurate in assessing Alzheimer's risk:
Clove, leather, lemon, lilac, menthol, natural gas, pineapple, smoke, soap and strawberry.
Researchers at Columbia University found that the "sniff test" had a greater degree of accuracy in predicting Alzheimer's disease than tests using brain imaging (very expensive!) or genetics.
A simple urine test is gaining wider acceptance in the medical community as a diagnostic tool for Alzheimer's disease. The test, called AD7C, measures neural thread protein, a protein found in large amounts in the brains of Alzheimer's patients. NTP is associated with one of the characteristics of Alzheimer's, neurofibrillary tangles.
If a friend or family member is showing signs of mental impairment, it's important to have them see a doctor and have Alzheimer's tests. One reason is that the signs of Alzheimer's mimic those of other, easily treatable disorders, such as the side effects of prescription medications, depression, B12 or folic acid deficiency and head injury.
Because someone in the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer's may function reasonably well, the condition may only be apparent to a close friend, spouse or other family member. They are the "front line" of detection because they are more aware of the subtle, gradual signs of Alzheimer's that occur. So if you are seeing what may be symptoms of alzheimer's in a friend or relative, encourage them to get an Alzheimer's test.
Early detection is so important because if Alzheimer's or dementia can be slowed or delayed with preventive measures for even two or three years, we have given that person the gift of independence and quality of life for those years. Currently, 95 percent of those with Alzheimer's disease are diagnosed four years after the first symptoms appear. By then, it's often too late to slow or delay the disease.
IS IT ALZHEIMER'S - OR IS IT A "SENIOR MOMENT?"
While it's easy to become concerned when you misplace your car keys, or forget someone's name or telephone number, most memory lapses are simply part of natural aging, and you'll remember that name or find those car keys later. If you're concerned about a friend or family member, here are two quick tests and a simple questionnaire that can help you determine whether it's time to see a doctor for a more thorough evaluation.
CLOCK DRAWING TEST
Give the person a piece of paper, and ask them to draw a clock, with all the numbers in the correct position, and the hands set at ten past eleven. To score the test:
Drawing a closed circle: 1 point.
Drawing all 12 numbers: 1 point.
Numbers in correct place: 1 point.
Clock hands at correct time: 1 point.
Medical professionals have found that a normal clock drawing (score of 4) almost always predicts that a person's cognitive skills are in a normal range.
Give the person 3 quarters, 7 dimes and 7 nickels, and ask them to put together 1 dollar in change. Time the response, and allow up to 2 minutes. Normal response time is around 15 seconds.
EVERYDAY ACTIVITIES QUESTIONNAIRE
A family member or caregiver rates the level of performance for the following tasks using the point scale:
0 = normal; 1 = has difficulty, but can manage; 2 = requires help; 3 = dependent.
____ writing checks and balancing a checkbook.
____ making out business and insurance papers.
____ shopping alone for groceries or clothes.
____ playing a game, bridge or chess for example, or working on a hobby.
____ heating water for a cup of tea or coffee, and turning off the stove.
____ preparing a balanced meal.
____ keeping track of current events.
____ paying attention to and understanding a TV show, book or magazine.
____ remembering appointments, medications and family events.
____ leaving the neighborhood by driving or taking the bus.
Score by adding the points for all ten questions. The higher the score, the greater the impairment. When the questions are answered accurately by a family member or caregiver, the test is highly accurate in determining cognitive impairment. If the total score is over ten, or three or more questions are scored 3, it's time to see a doctor for more in-depth testing.
Don't wait. Many folks are so afraid and fearful of Alzheimer's testing and that the doctor's diagnosis may be Alzheimer's that they won't take the first step to get tested. But taking the first step is the best thing you can do. If your doctor confirms an Alzheimer's diagnosis, you can take immediate steps to slow the progression, and live as full a life as possible.