Can Dementia Be Detected Early?

early detection of dementia

Let’s be honest, most of us are afraid of dementia. The thought of forgetting so much of our lives and even losing so many parts of our personality can be terrifying. It’s the reality for one in ten American seniors who suffer from dementia, according to Columbia University Irving Medical Center, as well as the 22% who suffer from some level of cognitive decline in their golden years.

What can seniors do to prevent dementia? There are some lifestyle changes that might help, but far too often, it seems as though dementia has taken hold before we realize there’s a problem. Fortunately, scientists have discovered that we might be able to detect dementia as early as nine years prior to an official diagnosis.

First, let’s explore what we’re looking for – the symptoms of early dementia.

Spotting the Symptoms of Dementia

According to the National Institute on Aging, dementia happens when neurons in the brain stop working. When this happens, they lose connections with other brain cells, which means that information doesn’t travel as easily or as quickly between the cells. As the damaged brain cells die, a person will begin to experience the symptoms of dementia.

The symptoms can vary from one person to another and can include:

·         Losing long-term or short-term memory. This might include everything from repeating questions even though they were just asked to getting lost in a neighborhood where you’ve lived all your life.

·         Poor judgment, such as difficulty with handling money in a responsible manner. This can lead to trouble with paying bills or making unusual decisions or taking risks you never would have taken before. Acting on impulse is another sign of dementia.

·         Confusion about all the changes happening to you or confusion about the world in general.

·         Difficulty with expressing thoughts, speaking, reading, writing, or understanding what others are saying. You might use unusual words for familiar, everyday objects.

·         Completing daily tasks takes much longer than they used to. 

·         Hallucinations, delusions, or paranoia might set in.

·         Not caring about what other people are feeling or thinking.

·         Balance problems or other issues with mobility and movement.

While balance problems can seem to come out of nowhere, it’s important to be prepared for that as we get older. A personal emergency response solution from Alert1 can provide you with the peace of mind you need so that if you do suffer from balance issues, you can reach out for help at a moment’s notice. You don’t have to worry about needing or waiting for help, and you don’t have to be afraid to do the things you enjoy doing. Get out to the store, travel the nation, visit friends, and more. A mobile, on-the-go medical alarm can be a solution that helps maintain your active lifestyle.

Can Doctors Detect Dementia Almost a Decade Before It Begins?

A new study from the UK, published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association suggests that certain symptoms can appear up to nine years before an official diagnosis.

The study looked at a wealth of data from those who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. The researchers were looking for warning signs that appeared well before the official diagnosis. They were able to find a few key signs that might be predictive of developing dementia up to nine years before it gets bad enough for a diagnosis. Here are some of the indications they found:

·         Falls can be a predictor of dementia. This echoes the results of a 2021 study which found that falls can be an early sign of cognitive impairment[1].

·         Progressive supranuclear palsy is a condition that affects balance. These individuals are twice as likely as others to suffer from a fall. As with dementia, the condition results from damage to the nerve cells in the brain[2].

·         Impairment in recalling numbers and in solving problems was prevalent in those who developed dementia-related diseases.

In looking through the patient histories for the study, researchers found that those diagnosed with dementia had clear cognitive impairment for several years before their symptoms worsened. The disease progression began years or even decades earlier; in this particular study, scientists could pinpoint changes up to nine years prior that signaled the onset of early dementia with very few outward symptoms[3].

Why does this matter? Though there is no surefire way to prevent dementia, the sooner you realize you might have an issue, the sooner you can get into clinical trials and pursue potential treatments well before the symptoms begin to worsen. This matters a great deal because for many, by the time they are officially diagnosed, their disease has progressed enough that they are no longer eligible for clinical trials and promising treatments might not work for them.

To spot the problems very early on, your doctor can perform cognitive testing to get a baseline of where you are in terms of memory, problem-solving, and physical ability. Following up over time can alert your doctor to any decline.

This is another reason why it is so important to let your doctor know if you suffer a fall, even if it left you with no injuries, and even if you know what caused it – such as tripping over a tree root while on a walk or slipping on a wet floor in your home. The CDC says that less than half of all seniors who fall down inform their doctor, and that’s a bigger problem than you might think, considering that falling once doubles your chances of falling again.

Medical alert systems for seniors can be a game-changer. If you suffer one fall, you are likely concerned you might fall again, and that uncertainty can actually lead to more falls. Knowing that help is a button push away can help you stay healthy, confident, and ready to reach out if you need it.

How to Decrease Your Risk of Dementia

Though talking to your doctor and getting a baseline test on cognition is important, there are other things you can do to help slow down the progression of dementia. While some risk factors can’t be changed, such as age, race, or genetics, there are others that can be changed and controlled.

A study in the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine found three main behavioral changes that could reduce the risk of age-related cognitive decline: controlling blood pressure, engaging in cognitive training, and getting appropriate amounts of physical activity. To that end, these tips might help:

·         Control high blood pressure and other chronic conditions. High blood pressure can directly affect the heart, blood vessels, and the brain. Hypertension is known to increase the risks of vascular dementia[4]. Treating the high blood pressure means that you can reduce the consequences your body and brain might face from the condition. The same is true of other conditions, such as diabetes. Higher levels of blood sugar can lead to problems with the heart and blood vessels as well, in addition to issues with cognition.

·         Maintain a healthy weight. Talk to your doctor about the weight you should aim for and start an exercise and diet program to get you there. A healthy diet filled with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and seafood can improve your overall physical health as well as boost your cognition as well. Staying physically active can help you control your weight as well as provide you with the overall health benefits that come from getting your blood pumping.

·         Keep your brain engaged. Staying mentally active can help your brain neurons make more connections, which can help stave off issues with cognitive impairment. Make a point of playing board games, reading, learning new skills, taking up new hobbies, working with your hands, and even playing games actually designed to test your brainpower, such as Sudoku or phone apps that test your brain’s reaction time. Socializing with family and friends can also help keep you sharp.

·         Treat hearing problems. A study in JAMA Internal Medicine found that those with hearing loss are at greater risk of cognitive decline and dementia. In addition, hearing loss can make it more difficult to socialize with others. Talk to your doctor about hearing issues and if you need hearing aids, get them!

·         Take care of your overall health. In addition to controlling chronic conditions and staying as physically healthy as possible, make a point of getting mental health screenings for anxiety and depression, getting plenty of sleep, drink alcohol only in moderation, stop smoking, and follow all your doctor’s recommendations.

One factor in developing dementia that often gets overlooked is a previous traumatic brain injury. These injuries happen when the brain takes a serious blow, such as during a car accident or a serious fall. In fact, falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries[5]. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, moderate or severe brain injury has been linked to a greater risk of cognitive decline years later.

Do your part to avoid traumatic brain injury by keeping your home safe with aging in place solutions. Non-skid flooring, grab bars around the toilet and in the shower, and keeping the walkways free of trip hazards are just a few of the ways you can keep your space safe. A medical alert pendant or wristband can be your lifeline to reach out for help if you do suffer a fall and need assistance right away. If you hit your head, pressing the button immediately can help fast – and the sooner you get evaluated, the better your health outcome could be.

Finally, remember that if you are starting to notice any signs of dementia – even the slightest symptom that might worry you – talk to your doctor. There is never any harm in being proactive with your health!