Will a Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Bring on Depression?

  • New research from Washington University in St. Louis has resulted in an interesting story, published on ScienceDaily.com, titled "Dementia Diagnosis Brings Relief, Not Depression."


    Is there anyone who has been affected by a loved one with dementia that has not thought to him or herself, "Would I want to know if I had Alzheimer's?" While there are still as many answers to that question as there are people, it appears that if we actually do suspect we may be showing signs of dementia, we - people in general - seem to want it diagnosed early, rather than just sit around wondering.


    If I keep locking myself out of my car, is that because I'm just preoccupied with other issues in my life, or is it because my brain is not working well? If I forget the name of the person I was introduced to, is it because I'm not paying close enough attention or because I'm losing my short-term memory?

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    Most of the time, if we take a few moments, we can figure out what is going on. We're preoccupied, too busy, need a break.


    But, what if we are truly worried? What if we have had a relaxing vacation, have nothing unusual going on in our lives, have always remembered names and faces, and suddenly find ourselves unable to match a name to a face? Should we get checked out? And if we are given a workup by a qualified doctor, will we be horribly depressed to know that we do, indeed, have an early stage of Alzheimer's? Or will we feel relieved to know that there is a reason for what is going on with our brains?


    According to the researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, "Nobody wants to hear the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease, but even that is preferable to recognizing there's a problem and not knowing what it is. At least having the diagnosis allows people to make plans for the future, including treatment as appropriate."


    The researchers had acquired information that suggested doctors were afraid that giving people the early diagnosis would cause many to be depressed and even suicidal. What their study found was just the opposite.


    People seemed pretty convinced something was wrong when they went to get a medical checkup, and were relieved to have a name for what was wrong.


    Researchers feel that early diagnosis is good for several reasons, one of which is that even though available medications can't cure Alzheimer's, they may for some delay symptoms if taken early enough.


    They mention other reasons for early diagnosis, as well. Knowing early on gives people a chance to see "what is coming."


    It allows people to prepare themselves and their families for the future. This can include making sure their family knows their wants and needs while they can still plainly state them and making sure their legal work is in place while they are still mentally competent to make decisions.


    Most important from my view, early diagnosis gives a person more time to spend with his or her family - quality time that can be used to express love, mend fences, tell stories you want your family to remember. It's a time to underscore your legacy, before the disease takes away your ability to fully express yourself.


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    Do any of us want to hear the diagnosis of Alzheimer's? Of course not. We don't want it for ourselves or our loved ones. But sometimes, knowledge - and acceptance - of something we can't change can buy us time to do precious things. It can give us time for a gracious, loving exit into the unknown, leaving our loved ones as prepared as anyone can possibly be, for what this disease will bring.


    To learn more about Carol, please go to http://www.mindingourelders.com/ or http://www.mindingoureldersblogs.com/.

Published On: March 12, 2008