COMEDIAN George Wallace was performing one night at the Flamingo Las Vegas when he approached an elderly lady in the audience. She stood up and he asked her a simple question, “Who are you here with tonight?” Perhaps it was the pressure of being in the spotlight (although she seemed to be enjoying herself), but her response was completely unintelligible.
George Wallace laughed, placed his arm around her shoulder, and with a big smile said to her, “Just how long has it been since you lost your mind?” The lady playfully hit him, but the audience burst out in laughter. But, for the estimated 5 million families in America affected by Alzheimer’s Disease, losing one’s mind is not so funny.
Many people find it hard to take the first steps toward diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia. It is important to know that while there is no current cure for Alzheimer’s, life will not stop with the diagnosis. There are treatments and services that can make life better for everyone living with Alzheimer’s.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, a timely diagnosis will provide the following:
1. A helpful framework for understanding symptoms. Knowledge is power. Knowing that memory loss, confusion, difficulty with speaking and writing, and other symptoms are due to a brain disorder can aid in accepting these experiences when they happen and make them seem less mysterious and frightening. You can’t find the resources you need until you know what the problem is.
2. An opportunity to build the right medical team. Your health professionals will be a key resource in your life with Alzheimer’s. Early diagnosis will enable you to participate in choosing a medical team that is a good fit for you, with the right skills to treat your Alzheimer’s disease as well as any other health conditions you may have.
3. Access to existing medications. Several drugs are currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) specifically to treat Alzheimer symptoms.
4. An opportunity to participate in studies of experimental drugs or other treatments. More than 200 clinical studies are currently testing next-generation drugs, new approaches to care and support, and better strategies for diagnosis. Many of these studies seek to enroll participants in the earliest stages of the disease. If you are interested in getting involved in research, early diagnosis will maximize your chances of finding a study that might be right for you.
5. Access to programs and services. Your local Alzheimer’s Association, medical centers, area agencies on aging and other community organizations offer a wealth of information, care and support services for everyone living with Alzheimer’s.
6. Enhanced safety and security. Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia can affect a person’s ability to remember to take medications on schedule; to use household appliances; to drive a car or use public transportation; and numerous other day-to-day skills. Individuals may also become more vulnerable to telemarketers or financial scams. A diagnosis alerts those living with Alzheimer’s to watch for signs that additional coping strategies or assistance are needed to ensure safety.
7. An opportunity to plan for the future. Medical, financial and legal needs will change. At some point you may need to make different living arrangements. Early diagnosis enables you to think about your preferences on these important issues and communicate your wishes to family and friends, your medical team and your legal advisors.
Talk to your doctor about what treatment may be right for you or the person in your care. A medication’s effectiveness, and the side effects it may cause can vary from one person to the next. For one individual, one drug may be more effective but have greater side effects. For another person, the same drug may be less effective but have no side effects.
Ask the doctor the following questions when you discuss any treatments. They will not address all treatment needs, but the answers to these questions will help you understand the options and make informed decisions.
1. What kind of assessment will you use to determine if the drug is effective?
2. How much time will pass before you will be able to assess the drug’s effectiveness?
3. How will you monitor for possible side effects?
4. What effects should we watch for at home?
5. When should we call you?
6. Is one treatment option more likely than another to interfere with medications for other conditions?
7. What are the concerns with stopping one drug treatment and beginning another?
8. At what stage of the disease would you consider it appropriate to stop using the drug?
The routine test that physicians give to people they suspect may have Alzheimer’s disease is called the “SLUMS” examination. It’s a remarkably simple test and is given in its entirety below. Perhaps over the holidays, you can test your spouse or parent. In the event you or someone you know fails to pass, it may be time to go see your healthcare professional!
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Elder Law Services of California is proud to announce that attorney Andrew Paranal has joined its trust department. Mr. Paranal began his career in estate planning in 2013 and has since expanded into asset protection and Medi-Cal planning. He became interested in Elder Law after helping care for a family member who experienced a debilitating event. Mr.Paranal is excited to join an established law firm and hopes to educate his Filipino community about the tremendous benefits of proper estate planning.
For more information, please visit elderlawcalifornia.com or call 1-800-411-0546