DIMENSIONS Spring 2002


by Linda Teri, Ph.D.

Q. Why should anyone get an evaluation for dementia? If you have it, there's nothing that can be done.

A. There are actually two questions here. The first, why an evaluation?; the second, can nothing be done?

Dementia, as you probably know, is a brain disease. It has many causes and some causes may be treatable. Treatment may cure some dementias and prevent the further cognitive deterioration of others. You can't receive treatment until you have received a medical workup. So, one main reason to obtain an evaluation for dementia is to determine whether the causes of the cognitive loss are medically treatable.

Alzheimer's disease (AD) is one form of dementia. Currently, we have some medications that might help moderate the effects of the disease but nothing really cures it. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't receive care. First, there are medications that might improve cognition. This is certainly worth a trial, if you (or a loved one) are diagnosed with AD. Second, individuals with AD are susceptible to the same diseases as those without AD. Receiving care for their other medical illnesses might improve their lives. Not receiving care might cause them to live with more pain or disability that is necessary. Third, knowing you (or a loved one) has AD will help you prepare for the future. What kind of care will be needed? What will the person with AD want? Having these conversations while they are still possible will help assure that their wishes are known when they may no longer able to state their desires and preferences. Last, but not least, there is much we have yet to know about Alzheimer's disease. It may help future generations of families to know if a loved one had AD or had another kind of dementia.

Whether or not to receive an evaluation for dementia is a personal decision. If you decide to do so, you want to seek out a reputable physician with experience working with older adults. If you decide not to do so, you want to be sure to have your other health needs attended to. We all get old. But, we don't all need to get sick.

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