Memory Loss Screening and Diagnosis
If you had a diagnosis of memory loss, dementia or Alzheimer’s disease would you want to know? The answer to this question is controversial among health care providers and consumers. Some believe, why diagnose when there’s nothing that can be done anyway. Others believe that a diagnosis should be made so that treatment, even though not curative, can be accessed.
For some families, a diagnosis provides a sense of relief so that strategies for care may be implemented and planned. Knowing, in their opinion, is better than not knowing because at least there’s an explanation for the unusual and sometimes angry behaviors exhibited by loved ones. They can say to others, mom or dad has Alzheimer’s. They can attend support groups and talk with others in similar situations. They have peace of mind that they’re doing all they can for a loved one and they can plan for care needs that they as a family may not be able to provide.
For others, a formal diagnosis brings the stark reality of the situation to life. They believe that life as they previously knew is gone, that they will be forced to confront the realities of the disease and have no choice but to act. That they will have to make difficult decisions that they would rather not confront, for them not knowing is preferred. Yet, not knowing is certain to result in crises that will force decision making and eliminate choices. But these individuals prefer to be led by the effects of the disease and to not have choices, but to have decisions made for them when they are unable to make decisions for themselves.
For the individual, a diagnosis is only relevant if the diagnosis is made early enough to allow an understanding of the consequences and progression of the disease. Others diagnosed after an understanding or learning is no longer possible, will not be able to recall the diagnosis or understand how their day to day life will change. Many individuals with memory loss appear to live in a world of their making. Who are we to say that this world isn’t a good place to live?
The main benefit of knowing the diagnosis for families wishing to be proactive is that having a diagnosis allows more time to discuss health care needs and available finances. More time allows the opportunity to prepare legally to assign medical and financial powers of attorney as well as the opportunity to discuss the aspects of a living will and end of life care. Another benefit for caregivers is the opportunity to access support early, whether this is through support groups or education. Knowing also allows discussion of feelings of impending loss.
In my opinion, early diagnoses allows early intervention and planning for both caregivers and family related to the short and long term consequences of the disease. Making a plan for care needs, understanding options and costs is extremely important and very wise for both families and the individual diagnosed with memory loss.
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