The Early Warning Signs of Dementia

For many, the symptoms of dementia seem to come out of nowhere. The reality, however, is that  these symptoms are the culmination of an insidious process that begins long before the patient suffers its most serious symptoms. Fortunately, markers are quickly being discovered which foreshadow the onset of these symptoms, an advancement which may considerably improve the prognosis of those diagnosed. Indeed, successful diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease through documentation of noticeable mental decline occurs at a point during which the patient has already suffered considerable brain damage.  

The Stages Of Dementia
In its early, pre-symptomatic stages, dementia may manifest itself as tendencies to lose track of time, forgetfulness and becoming lost in familiar places. Unfortunately, the onset of dementia is frequently overlooked because its symptoms are relatively “mild” and unremarkable, especially when compared with the later stages, which may involve becoming lost at home, forgetting the names of familiar people and recent events, requiring assistance with daily personal care and having difficulty in communication. Following this “middle” stage, the individual with dementia may come to have difficulty walking and maintaining awareness of time and place. Behavioral changes, such as aggression, may also surface.  

Nipping Dementia In The Bud

There is a great deal of variability when it comes to how much longer the individual can expect to live after having been diagnosed with dementia. On average, however, those with Alzheimer’s disease live between eight and ten years following their diagnosis. How long such a person can expect to live depends in great measure upon the stage at which they are diagnosed. A timely diagnosis is, therefore, crucial, as a late stage diagnosis carries with it a considerably poorer prognosis than a diagnosis of the disease in its early stages.    

Improving Diagnostic Methods

There are several means of successfully detecting dementia in its early stages prior to the onset of its more overt and serious symptoms.  First, important brain changes that are correlated with the onset of the disease can be observed through the use of imaging. Structural imaging with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) are the most common means of such imaging. Such tests can be useful in ruling out other conditions whose symptoms may look similar to that of Alzheimer’s disease. In 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first molecular imaging tracer for use in the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. It works by binding to beta-amyloid in the brain; amyloid plaques are abundantly present in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Finally, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), a clear fluid which cushions in the brain and spinal cord, can be sampled through a lumbar puncture. In its early stages, Alzheimer’s disease may produce changes in the levels of tau and beta-amyloid present in CFS. Both levels are significantly linked with the onset of the disease.