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There are at least a dozen advantages to obtaining an early and accurate diagnosis when cognitive symptoms are first noticed. These advantages result in a higher quality of life, less stress for family care partners, more time to treasure the present, and increased time for future planning.
Potential symptoms may be caused by a condition that is reversible. If there is an underlying dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease, then diagnosis and treatment of reversible conditions can improve brain function and reduce symptoms.
Some causes of cognitive decline are not reversible. However, they might be treatable. Appropriate treatment can stop or slow the rate of further decline.
Alzheimer’s and other dementia-causing diseases are typically most effective when started early in the disease process. An early and accurate diagnosis is crucial—especially as research leads to robust treatment options.
An accurate diagnosis is contingent upon a complete medical. The latter often is more easily obtained while the person is still able to answer questions and report concerns. Also, observers in early stages 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.
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.
An early diagnosis enables the person to prioritize how they spend their time—focusing on what matters most to them.
Early diagnosis can prevent 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.
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.
Those diagnosed early can take advantage of clinical trials or advocate for more research and improved care and opportunities.
Early diagnosis helps to reduce the stigma associated with the disease. When we learn to associate the disease with people in the early stages, we understand they are still viable in the community.
An early diagnosis gives families more opportunities to learn about the disease, develop realistic expectations, and plan for their future together. Often, this process results in reduced stress and lessened feelings of burden and regret later in the disease process.
Early diagnosis allows the person and family to attribute cognitive changes to the disease rather than to personal failings —preserving the person’s dignity throughout the disease process.