7 Benefits of Early Diagnosis of Dementia

(Podcast #018)

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I'm Dr. Regina Koepp. I'm a board certified clinical psychologist and I specialize with older adults and families. I created the Psychology of Aging Podcast to answer some of the most common questions I get about aging: Questions about mental health and wellness, changes in the brain like with dementia, relationships and sex, caregiving, and even end of life. Like I say in my therapy groups, no topic is off topic, we just have to have a healthy way of talking about it. So if you're an older adults are caring for one, you're in the right place. Let's get started.

Download the Free Memory Loss Guide

The last couple of episodes I've been talking a lot about memory loss warning signs and what to do if you're worried that your older loved one might have memory loss. Today I want to talk about why it's so important to get your a loved one evaluated if they do indeed show signs of memory loss. You can also learn all about memory loss warning signs, what to do if your loved one has memory loss, and more about the seven benefits of early detection that I'm going to go over today by downloading my free Memory Loss Guide, which you can link to directly in the show notes or by going to my website

Okay, let's get started. It can be really scary and concerning. When you're witnessing memory loss warning signs in your loved one or memory problems in your loved one. You might not know what's causing it. You might be afraid of the worst case scenario. I do want to share that there is indeed a downside to knowing that you have a dementia disorder. And of course, there is a downside. There's uncertainty and fear and grief that happens when we're diagnosed with a serious in terminal illness. And that's what dementia is. It's a serious and terminal illness. And it can last for years. And so it makes it really hard on folks living with dementia and on their family. That is, of course, the downside. With this said, early detection of a dementia disorder has benefits. And today I'm going to talk about what those benefits are. And I want to say the reason I'm talking about the benefits is I hear people so often focus only on the downside. And they'll say, and I get it. I mean, it's hard and it's painful. And it's stressful and it's painstaking. There's so much grief. I hear people say, "well, there's nothing I can do about dementia. So why even go and get evaluated?" And I want to say you're wrong, there's actually a lot that we can do to make your life and your loved ones life with dementia easier. And early detection really helps with that. And so that's why I'm devoting a whole episode to seven benefits for getting your loved one evaluated and detected early for dementia. So here they are. Seven benefits for early detection of a dementia disorder. If your loved one is demonstrating or exhibiting memory problems, you definitely want to get them checked out by their primary care provider because it might not be dementia at all, it might be something that could be corrected like a vitamin B 12 deficiency or maybe a heart condition or diabetes or some other issue that's causing... maybe sleep problems or some other issue that's causing memory impairment, and it could potentially get corrected. So that's another reason you want to get your loved one checked out and detected early. Okay, so here they are. Seven benefits to early detection of dementia disorders.


1. Provides an explanation for changes in the brain

The first benefit is that it provides an explanation for what is going on. And I just alluded to this. So without an explanation of what's going on, you're left wondering and struggling. So I mentioned just a minute ago that one of the downsides of a dementia disorder is uncertainty. That's also a downside of not knowing if what your loved one is experiencing is dementia or not, there's a lot of uncertainty as to what's causing it causing memory problems. And you could get that clarified. And you don't have to be left wondering and struggling. So getting an evaluation of memory loss and gaining clarity about if your loved one has a dementia disorder or not actually gives an explanation for the symptoms and signs that they're experiencing. And it actually can answer a lot of questions and put unease to rest.


2. Allows the person with dementia to make decisions early on about what they want their future to look like

The second benefit for early detection of a dementia disorder is that it allows the person to make decisions early on about what they want their future to look like. Let me give you some examples. So it allows the person living with dementia to make financial and legal decisions, and to express their wishes for their future, so your loved one can plan ahead while they still have the capacity to do that early on, they can participate in their own legal and financial planning. And then also talk with you and other family members about future support and care options. And you all can have some pretty important family conversations that you might not be able to have down the road.


3. Better access to medical and mental health care

Okay, number three, is better access to medical and mental health care. This one is really important. If you heard or if you haven't heard my episode with Dr. Vonetta Dotson, she talks about how important early detection of dementia is for starting medications that can slow down the disease process, the process of dementia. So sadly, there is no cure for dementia at this time. But there are some medications that can help slow down the progress of dementia. And they're most effective when they're started early in the illness. And yes, dementia is an illness. It's not a normal part of aging. It's not a typical thing that happens in the brain. It's an illness. And so if you can start a medication early in the process, it can slow down how quickly that illness moves, and improves the quality of life. So as I just mentioned, early intervention with these medications have been shown to improve how the brain works, even in the brain with dementia and shown to enhance quality of life with the person living with dementia. So the earlier you start these medications in the dementia process, the better


4. Better survival rates

Number four are better survival rates. So dementia disorders like Alzheimer's disease, let me just stop for a minute and say that Alzheimer's Disease is the most common type of dementia. It accounts for like 60 to 80% of all cases of dementia or Alzheimer's disease. So Alzheimer's Disease is an illness that, unfortunately can cause death. And early detection has been shown to not only improve quality of life like we just talked about, but increases the chance that that person with dementia will live longer. So not only will they have a better quality of life, they're going to have a better quality of life for longer. Okay. I hear some of you saying "well, Regina, quality of life and later stages of dementia disorder, it's pretty grim." And I'll say that can be true. I've worked with a lot of families with end stage Alzheimer's disease and it's painful. And early detection has been shown to improve quality of life even in that condition. So it's still worth it.


5. Lower rates of institutionalization later in the illness process

Moving right along. Number five, are lower rates of institutionalization later in the illness process later in the dementia. So research shows a 20% lower rate of living in a memory care unit or a nursing home. When we identify dementia early in the disease process, a 20% lower rate of living in memory care or in a nursing home like a skilled nursing facility. When dementia is detected early, that has huge financial implications. Memory Care is so expensive... 24/7 care is very expensive.


6. Gives family members and caregivers time to adjust and come to terms with the diagnosis

Number six is that it gives family members and caregivers time to adjust and come to terms with the diagnosis and all the care needs. When I first started out and working with older adults, I was naive about dementia disorders, it is one of the most painful conditions to care for. There is so much ambiguous loss. If you want to learn more about ambiguous loss, I'll link to an episode I did on that. But it's just a never ending loss journey and very painful. You see your loved one changing in bits and pieces and you're losing them bit by bit. It's devastating. The earlier the diagnosis in the illness process, the better the family and the caregivers are to adjust and come to terms. And so when you do have the time to adjust and come to terms with all the changes in the person's ability to function, changes in their mood and in their personality, it helps you as a caregiver to transition as a caregiver into that role. Instead of one day you're living your life happy go lucky (well, nobody's happy go lucky during COVID) but one day you're living your life, and the next day BAM dementia disorder. Instead of that early detection allows you to also step,  one step at a time into the caregiver role. And that actually is better for you and your own brain and your own psyche and your emotional health and growth as well.


7. Reduces the risk of the caregiver developing anxiety and depression

The seventh benefit of early detection of dementia disorders is that it reduces the risk of you the caregiver, developing anxiety and depression. We know that folks who care for loved ones with dementia of all caregivers experience the highest rates of anxiety and depression. Early diagnosis helps to reduce that risk. So the earlier your loved one gets diagnosed, the more time it gives you to adapt. And when you're better able to adapt, the more competent you feel providing care... and you're going to be less likely to experience psychological problems, like anxiety and depression, in both the short run and the long run.


BONUS Benefit: Helps you to understand the caregiving landscape and prepare resources

I'll also say a bonus benefit is that early detection helps you to understand the caregiving landscape and all of the resources that you're going to need to provide care for your loved one with dementia. Resources like Adult Day programs, resources like Medicare/Medicaid, resources like Memory Care,  resources like continuous care retirement communities. It's like a whole new world. When you talk about dementia caregiving and early identification in the dementia process gives you time to learn about that world and gives you time to gather information and gather resources ahead of when you'll need them, so that you'll be more prepared. That's a bonus benefit. And I see that playing out constantly in my own practice.



So there you have it, seven benefits and a bonus benefit about why it's so important to help your older loved one with memory loss get evaluated for a dementia disorder, and if they do have a dementia disorder to detect it early. So I'm just going to review them one more time. Number one, it provides an explanation for the memory issues that you're noticing. Number two, it allows the person with dementia to make financial and legal decisions and express their wishes. Number three, you'll have better access to medical and mental health care. Number four, better survival rates and quality of life. Number five, lower rates of institutionalization later in the disease course. Number six, it gives you the family member and the caregiver time to adjust and come to terms with the diagnosis and care needs. And number seven, reduces the risk of you developing anxiety and depression. And the bonus benefit that I just added on at the end is that it helps you prepare and understand the landscape of caregiving for somebody with dementia. It helps you to get all your ducks and resources in a row.


Download the Free Memory Loss Guide

All right. If you're concerned that your older loved one has memory loss, go and download my free memory loss guide, please. It has a checklist of the warning signs I talked about a couple of weeks ago. It tells you what you need to do if you're worried that your older loved one might have memory loss and it also gives a review of all of the benefits I talked about today.


Wrapping Up

Join me next week the conversation does not stop here. I'm going to talk more about dementia next week. So join me. If you liked this episode, be sure to subscribe and leave a review because subscriptions and reviews help people find this show. And here's why this is so important. Older adults and people who are caring for older adults, and people who are experiencing memory loss are often left out of the conversation when it comes to mental health and wellness. So do your part to include them by subscribing and leaving a review. As always, the information shared in this episode is for educational purposes only, and should not take the place of licensed medical or mental health care. I'll see you next week. Same time, same place. Lots of love to you and your family. Bye for now.

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