A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s can be terrifying. But the more you know about what to expect, the better off you’ll be. If your doctor tells you that you have Alzheimer’s disease, here are important questions to ask….
Are you sure it’s Alzheimer’s disease? Doctors can diagnose “probable Alzheimer’s disease” with about 90% accuracy. But there’s always room for error because many forms of dementia can mimic Alzheimer’s. Ask your doctor how he/she will confirm that you actually have Alzheimer’s and not another form of dementia that could possibly be more treatable (such as dementia caused by thyroid problems or a vitamin deficiency).
What will happen to me first? With early Alzheimer’s, you might notice occasional (and slight) memory lapses. Your cognitive abilities will continue to worsen over time. Some people misplace things, and some make poor decisions or engage in uncharacteristically aggressive behavior. Your doctor can tell you what’s typical for each of the three stages of Alzheimer’s, but the specific symptoms will vary from person to person.
How will my moods change? You might become suspicious of close friends or family members. You might get angry more than you used to or become increasingly agitated toward the end of each day. If you do notice mood changes, ask your doctor what you can do to cope. In some Alzheimer’s patients, certain behavior changes are due to something else altogether—such as depression.
What medications are you going to prescribe for me, and why? Depending on your symptoms and stage, you might be given donepezil (Aricept) or memantine (Namenda). A newer drug, Namzaric, combines both of these drugs in a one-a-day capsule. The drugs can help improve memory/confusion and delay the worsening of symptoms, although they cannot cure the disease. You might need other drugs—such as antianxiety medications—as well.
Could nondrug treatments make a difference in my case? Preliminary research finds that omega-3 fatty acids may slow cognitive declines in Alzheimer’s patients who are missing a particular gene. (The US Food and Drug Administration recommends no more than three grams daily from food and supplement sources combined.) A supplement called huperzine A (a moss extract) has shown some benefit—it has properties that are similar to some Alzheimer’s drugs. Check with your doctor before starting (or continuing to take) any supplement.
Should I increase my exercise? There’s some evidence that vigorous exercise can slow or temporarily stop cognitive declines in those with an early stage of Alzheimer’s disease. But hard exercise isn’t safe for everyone—and it might or might not help. Your doctor can help you design the best exercise program for you.
Is it safe for me to drive? Personal safety is always an issue as Alzheimer’s progresses. The American Academy of Neurologists says that no one with Alzheimer’s (regardless of the stage) should drive a car, though other experts advise deciding case-by-case. Get your doctor’s opinion on your situation.