Dementia and other forms of cognitive impairment is a very real and common fear in aging population groups. It can be a profoundly life-changing condition with emotional and physiological reactions to a diagnosis.
Many initial emotional reactions include feelings of dismay and can range into deep sadness, chronic anger, short-temper, and even outright despair. Yet for some individuals, a positive diagnosis might be about a sense of relief. Especially if you or a loved one has been struggling to answers for things like a progressively failing memory, problems communicating and changes in otherwise normal behavior.
There is also a growing segment of people in what can loosely be defined as the aging workforce. In the past, this was seen as individuals who were over the age of 40. Yet as more and, more baby boomers reach retirement age, the concept of the aging workforce has seemingly moved to later ages.
Many of these aging workers have been in established positions for quite some time. Even if they have not received a positive diagnosis for dementia, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s or other neurological conditions, they could still be affected by the impact of aging on the brain.
As you age your brain naturally decreases in volume while changes also occur in the brain’s dopamine system. This impacts your general cognitive ability as well as the performance of the prefrontal cortex of the brain.
There are a variety of studies that found signs of cognitive decline in older adults which was similar to that type of decline that is experienced by patients with one or more lesions in the prefrontal cortex. There have also been brain imaging studies that have shown there is a general decrease in brain volume, that accelerates after the age of 60.
It is speculated that the decline in volume decline in the prefrontal cortex is likely related to a decrease in the density of neurotransmitters as well as other factors like neuronal shrinkage and decreased synaptic density.
The neurotransmitter problems in the dopamine system of the prefrontal cortex can lead to a gradual dysfunction and decreased cognitive control. This could manifest as problems in a person’s working memory, attention span, natural sense of inhibition, attention, and problems with the executive function of the brain.
Why Are Some People Reluctant To Seek Diagnosis?
For many members of the aging population being diagnosed with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or a condition that causes cognitive decline is a very real, and powerful fear. There are some studies that say it may have generates a higher level of concern than a positive cancer diagnosis.
It can be especially disconcerting for members of the elder working population, who may be forced to embrace early retirement for medical reasons. It also typically causes concerns about their social lives and ability to drive. Some people embrace denial of a problem to avoid the fear that comes with the diagnosis.
There Are Different Types And Characteristics Of Dementia
Every individual is unique, and so is the characteristics of their brain. No two individuals have exactly the same dementia experience. Being able to diagnose and identify the type and characteristics of their dementia helps families and care providers to assess the individual's needs and ensure that the right measures will be in place.
For example, an individual with Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia would be more likely to experience problems with memory as well as communication. However, a person with frontotemporal lobe dementia is more likely to experience increasing changes in personality and behavior more so than memory problems.
In each of these cases, the treatment plan and the necessary support preparations could be very different. The level of involvement from friends and family would also be different. Changes in personality and behavior from frontotemporal lobe dementia are more often identified early by those who know the person best.
What Are The Benefits And Treatment Strategy For An Early Diagnosis Of Dementia?
For some individuals, dementia can sometimes progress rapidly. People with advanced dementia and other related health issues often face limited treatment options. With early diagnosis there are more treatment options, that can slow dementia’s progression and potentially improve other associated conditions.
Early diagnosis also helps people and their families to plan ahead while they still have the faculties to make important care decisions. This includes things like defining support needs, addressing legal concerns and preparing for potential financial matters.
A Sense Of Relief
For some individuals, a positive diagnosis for dementia can bring with it a sense of relief. In some cases, dementia can also be associated with other medical and mental health conditions. Being diagnosed with dementia can help the person understand what was going wrong and start empowering them to make more informed treatment decisions.
Identifying Treatment Options For Other Conditions
Dementia is more likely to strike the elderly, and the elderly are more likely to have other active or chronic medical issues. Being able to sort out what symptoms are related to dementia and what is related to other conditions helps develop a more effective treatment plan.
Access To In-Depth Information
An individual who has been suffering from undiagnosed dementia or cognitive decline might be frustrated by knowing something is wrong and not having the information or tools to feel empowered to improve the problem. For these individuals having access to relevant information, resources, and support helps them combat the fear, sadness, and despair that often accompanies a dementia diagnosis.
Defining The Support System And Care Directives
An early diagnosis can allow time for friends and loved ones to participate in helping to determine the support network the individual needs. It can also be an opportunity to clearly define care directives as dementia continues to progress. This can also include things like making arrangements for lasting power of attorney.
Increased Independence Time
Depending on the type and severity of dementia, there are treatments which can help arrest the cognitive decline or set up types of in-home care. This might include different therapeutic techniques or the use of prescription medication.
In some of these situations, the individual gets more time to live independently before they need constant care or unnecessary admission to a hospital or a long-term care facility.
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