Q. My mother's doctor recently said she has Alzheimer's and put her on a medication for it. He didn't do any kind of tests before coming up with this diagnosis. Is there any point in looking further?
There are several reasons for looking further. First there are reversible causes of memory loss and they need to be investigated. Among these are vitamin deficiencies, infections and depression. If these are ruled out, you should seek a referral to a neurologist.
Another option is to go to a center that specializes in Alzheimer's such as UCLA, USC or the VA. At one of these centers you and your mom will receive full service care.
At a specialty center, your mom will not only receive a thorough examination and appropriate testing, she will be offered the opportunity to participate in clinical trials. You will receive caregiver support and education. Studies have shown that caregiver stress is greatly relieved when the caregiver is educated regarding the progression of the disease and how to deal with various behaviors.
The Alzheimer's Association has two special programs for family caregivers. When more than one family member is involved in hands-on care or in decision making, a program is available where a representative comes to the home to provide education and support. There also is a six-week series of classes for family caregivers.
According to the Alzheimer's Association, dementia is a common, costly and often unrecognized problem in older adults. In order to provide better medical care and outcomes for people with Alzheimer's and other dementias, the conditions must first be detected and diagnosed, and needed care management must be provided.
"Research suggests that when the family of someone who is officially diagnosed with Alzheimer's becomes educated about the disease, and they work together with medical professionals on a care plan, it can reduce the patient's difficult behavioral and psychiatric symptoms," said Maria Carrillo, Ph.D., senior director of Medical and Scientific Relations at the Alzheimer's Association. "It can also lower the family caregiver's anxiety, depression and stress."
Alzheimer's care management helps people with the disease and their families to find resources, make decisions, and manage stress. For example, a care manager can help families with decisions about in-home care services, or long-term care whether at home or in a nursing facility.
Interventions are targeted to the severity of dementia and the specific needs of the patient and their caregivers. Informational material, assistance in identifying needed services, and direct support and training from team members is provided, as needed.
"The most important goals of the program are making sure that all family members understand the disease and are on the same page, that patients remain physically active and socially engaged, and that caregivers have the support they need," said J. Riley McCarten, M.D., the project's lead physician.
The Alzheimer's Association is the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer care, support and research. Visit http://www.alz.org or call (800) 272-3900.
NANCY TURNEY received a bachelor's degree in social work and a certificate in gerontology. If you have a specific question you would like answered in this column, e-mail it to email@example.com or call Turney at the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA, (818) 790-0123, ext. 225.