According to The New York Times, “more than 100 medical conditions can resemble Alzheimer’s disease, and about 20 percent of people who are told they have the illness are found upon further examination to have frontotemporal dementia, vascular dementia, normal pressure hydrocephalus, Parkinson’s disease or another condition.”

In fact, Dr. Dan Skovronsky, chief executive of Avid Radiopharmaceuticals, which makes a radioactive chemical used in amyloid PET scans that may help detect and diagnose Alzheimer’s disease claims “as many as 40 percent of older adults with cognitive impairment do not have Alzheimer’s disease.”

While medical professionals search for diagnostic tools to detect Alzheimer’s and other cognitive illness as early as possible as well as continue drug trials in search of pharmaceutical treatments designed to fight Alzheimer’s disease, many aging adults and their families are struggling with establishing the correct medical diagnosis and treatment plan for their symptoms.

“Ninety-five percent of older adults have some sort of cognitive complaint, so a lot of people will go to their doctor worried but may be dismissed as normal aging,” according to Katherine Gifford, Psy.D., neuropsychology fellow in the Vanderbilt Memory & Alzheimer’s Center. Gifford recently published her research study, “The source of cognitive complaints predicts diagnostic conversion differentially among nondemented older adults,” in the July 18, 2013 issue of The Journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia and she believes her research results demonstrate that a cognitive complaint should be taken seriously, particularly when a loved one can confirm there are issues with mental ability, such as memory loss. Gifford suggests “further follow-up or referral to a specialist” would be appropriate in such cases.

How can you recognize the signs of Alzheimer’s and other cognitive diseases? The Alzheimer’s Association lists 10 early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s including:

1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life
2. Challenges in planning or solving problems
3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home or work
4. Confusion with time or place
5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
6. New problems with words in speaking or writing
7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
8. Decreased or poor judgement
9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
10. Changes in mood and personality

In addition to the aforementioned signs and symptoms, older adults suffering from cognitive disorders often wander away from their homes or familiar surroundings. They may be confused about where they are and set out looking for friends or loved ones only to become lost and unable to tell anyone who they are or where they live. Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in older adults has resulted in an increase in missing person cases worldwide and according to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 6 of every 10 people with dementia will wander, and some of those individuals will never be found.

With the physical, emotional and financial impacts of the disease, Alzheimer’s is the most costly chronic illness to treat in the United States according to New Jersey Spotlight.

With an aging population, the US government has taken notices of the seriousness of the issue and in 2013, the Huffington Post reported that the “Obama administration allocated an additional $100 million within President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2014 budget to the fight against Alzheimer’s. A “National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease” was also implemented with the goal to prevent and effectively treat Alzheimer’s disease by 2025.

Unless there is a major medical breakthrough “we know that 70 percent of people over the age 65 will need some form of long-term services and support,” said Dr. Bruce Chernof, Chairman of The Commission on Long-Term Care and head of the SCAN Foundation. While Anne Tumlinson, senior vice president of the research firm Avalere Health, estimates “that total number of people getting long-term care will be 16.5 million in 2050.”

ElderLink is committed to helping every person who calls to find the most appropriate and cost effective retirement care. Working with us will help you save time, relieve stress, anxiety and frustration during this difficult time. If the time has come that you or a family member is no longer able to maintain an independent lifestyle, contact ElderLink to discuss elder care services and options available throughout California.