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Are You Sure It's Alzheimer's Disease?

Published March 3, 2011 4:01 PM by Brian Garavaglia

Aligning the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease with memory problems that may be experienced by older adults has become all too cliché. It has been known for some time that making such a definitive diagnosis while the person is still living is impossible without viewing the brain tissue. However, recent studies have shown that approximately one-half of the diagnoses of Alzheimer's disease made are incorrect (Read more). 

I have personally written on this in a number of articles and blog editorials. Quite frequently, the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease is used as a grab-bag diagnosis for any older adults who are experiencing memory problems. Furthermore, this diagnosis is often made in an all too cursory manner without fully investigating the myriad of causes that may be linked to the issue of memory disturbances.  

Making a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease always carries the probability of high error rates. However, recent studies that have been conducted and mentioned in the article demonstrate that the probability of error in this diagnosis may actually be much higher than was previously thought to exist. The article also states that new technologies are coming to the forefront that may help to provide greater accuracy in diagnosing this terrible disease. 

It must be realized that we have come to think that memory disturbances are an inevitable occurrence of being an older adult.  Unfortunately, due to the "ageism" that is still found in our society among all individuals, including professionals within the medical community, many older adults are often provided with the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease since it fits implicitly with our stereotypic conceptions of the older adult.   

Unfortunately for some older adults, it may not make much difference if they are misdiagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. For many who are misdiagnosed they may be suffering from other forms of dementia that may be having a dramatic and irreversible insult as well on the delicate brain tissue. However, for many other older adults who are mislabeled as having Alzheimer's disease, they may be actually suffering from reversible illnesses such as depression, metabolic disorders, infections, or delirium, all of which, if caught and treated, can actually reverse the memory or cognitive impairment that is being manifested. 

Although we have come a great distance in improving our knowledge and understanding of the brain as well as Alzheimer's disease and related disorders, the article demonstrates that we still have a considerable distance to go, both in attaining greater accuracy in diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease and in finding a cure for such a devastating disease. Although we still do not have the technology to provide a definitive diagnosis of this disease, we nevertheless have to make sure we are able to better utilize the resources that we do have to enhance the probability for making such a diagnosis as well as accurately diagnosing those that do not have irreversible forms of dementia. 

This latter element is very important since many older adults may be unduly suffering and categorized with a diagnosis of irreversible dementia when in fact they are amenable to therapeutic intervention that may dramatically enhance their standard of living and forestall, or even reverse, any further type of cognitive impairment.   

                                                                           

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About this Blog


    Brian Garavaglia, PhD
    Occupation: Long-term care administrator
    Setting: Sterling Heights, Mich.
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