Importance of an early diagnosis
Early diagnosis is key.
There are at least a dozen advantages to obtaining an early and accurate diagnosis when cognitive symptoms are first noticed.
1. Your symptoms might be reversible.
The symptoms you are concerned about might be caused by a condition that is reversible. And even if there is also an underlying dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease, diagnosis and treatment of reversible conditions can improve brain function and reduce symptoms.
2. It may be treatable.
Some causes of cognitive decline are not reversible, but might be treatable. Appropriate treatment can stop or slow the rate of further decline.
3. With treatments, the sooner the better.
Treatment of Alzheimer’s and other dementia-causing diseases is typically most effective when started early in the disease process. Once more effective treatments become available, obtaining an early and accurate diagnosis will be even more crucial.
4. Diagnoses are more accurate early in the disease process.
A more accurate diagnosis is possible when a complete history can be taken early in the disease process, while the person is still able to answer questions and report concerns and when observers can still recall the order in which symptoms first appeared. Obtaining an accurate diagnosis can be difficult once most of the brain has become affected.
5. It's empowering.
An earlier diagnosis enables the person to participate in their own legal, financial, and long-term care planning and to make their wishes known to family members.
6. You can focus on what's important to you.
It allows the person the opportunity to reprioritize how they spend their time – focusing on what matters most to them – perhaps completing life goals such as travel, recording family history, completing projects, or making memories with grandchildren while they still can.
7. You can make your best choices.
Early diagnosis can prevent unwise choices that might otherwise be made in ignorance – such as moving far away from family and friends, or making legal or financial commitments that will be hard to keep as the disease progresses.
8. You can use the resources available to you.
Individuals diagnosed early in the disease process can take advantage of early-stage support groups and learn tips and strategies to better manage and cope with the symptoms of the disease.
9. Participate or advocate for research.
Those diagnosed early can also take advantage of clinical trials – or advocate for more research and improved care and opportunities.
10. You can further people's understanding of the disease.
Earlier diagnosis helps to reduce the stigma associated with the disease when we learn to associate the disease with people in the early stages, when they are still cogent and active in the community.
11. It will help your family.
An earlier diagnosis gives families more opportunity to learn about the disease, develop realistic expectations, and plan for their future together – which can result in reduced stress and feelings of burden and regret later in the disease process.
12. It will help you, too.
Early diagnosis allows the person and family to attribute cognitive changes to the disease rather than to personal failings – preserving the person’s ego throughout the disease process.
Taken altogether, these advantages result in a higher quality of life for the person afflicted, less stress for family care partners, and more time to treasure the present and prepare for the future.