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 Medical Self-Care: Early Alzheimer's Disease - Patient and Family Guide 
 

Alzheimer's disease affects two major types of abilities:

1. The ability to carry out everyday activities such as bathing, dressing, using the toilet, eating, and walking.

2. The ability to perform more complex tasks such as using the telephone, managing finances, driving a car, planning meals, and working in a job.

When a person has Alzheimer's disease, problems with complex tasks appear first and over time progress to more simple activities.

Treatable Causes of Dementia
Sometimes the physical examination reveals a condition that can be treated. Symptoms may respond to early treatment when they are caused by:

  • Medication (including over-the-counter drugs).
  • Alcohol.
  • Delirium.
  • Depression.
  • Tumors.
  • Problems with the heart, lungs, or blood vessels.
  • Metabolic disorders (such as thyroid problems).
  • Head injury.
  • Infection.
  • Vision or hearing problems.
Drug reactions are the most common cause of treatable symptoms. Older persons may have reactions when they take certain medications. Some medications should not be taken together. Sometimes, adjusting the dose can improve symptoms.

Delirium and depression may be mistaken for or occur with Alzheimer's disease. These conditions require prompt treatment. See the inside front cover of this booklet for more information on delirium and depression.

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Special Tests

Gathering as much information as possible will help your doctor diagnose early Alzheimer's disease while the condition is mild. You may be referred to other specialists for further testing. Some special tests can show a persons mental strengths and weaknesses and detect differences between mild, moderate, and severe impairment. Tests also can tell the difference between changes due to normal aging and those caused by Alzheimer's disease.

If you go to a special doctor for these tests, he or she should return all test results to your regular family doctor. The results will help your doctor track the progress of your condition, prescribe treatment, and monitor treatment effects.

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Getting the Right Care

When the diagnosis is Alzheimer's disease, you and your family members have serious issues to consider. Talk with your doctor about what to expect in the near future and later on, as your condition progresses. Getting help early will help ensure that you get the care that is best for you.

When tests do not indicate Alzheimer's disease, but your symptoms continue or worsen, check back with your doctor. More tests may be needed. If you still have concerns, even though your doctor says you do not have Alzheimer's disease, you may want to get a second opinion.

Whatever the diagnosis, followup is important.

Report any changes in your symptoms. Ask the doctor what followup is right for you. Your doctor should keep the results of the first round of tests for later use. After treatment of other health problems, new tests may show a change in your condition.

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