The Importance of Early Detection

Patient Expert

In 1998 the United States had only 9,000 Geriatricians (an MD with a specialty in geriatrics) trained to care for 34 million Americans over age 65. A sobering new statistic reveals the figure has declined to only 6,700 specialists, yet the need steadily rises with a projection of 62 million over age 65 by 2025

An estimated 43 percent of Americans 65 and older will spend time in a nursing home, and by 2012, 75 percent of Americans over age 65 will require long-term care. Because of advances in medicine, people are living longer than ever (fastest growing is the 85+ group), with age being the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer's. One in 10 over age 65, and nearly half over the age of 85 are afflicted.

A person with Alzheimer's will live an average of 8 and as many as 20 years or more from the onset of symptoms. An estimated 4.5 million Americans have Alzheimer's (more than double since 1980), and millions have not been diagnosed yet because the earliest signs OFTEN get chalked up to a "normal part of aging."

All this brings me to my mission of the importance of early diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer's disease. My heart sinks so often when I ask people how their elderly parents are and I hear, "Oh, they are doing real good--just a little dementia and a little memory loss, but that's normal for their ages, isn't it? And anyway, it's not really that bad yet."

A "little dementia" is always how it starts (you don't go from normal to demented overnight), but that's not how it ends. If you notice illogical or irrational behaviors, short-term memory loss, any of the Ten Warning Signs -- don't ignore it and chalk it all up to the aging process. Write down and keep track of these behaviors and seek a dementia specialist sooner than later, even though they are few and far between. The best way to find one is by calling the Alzheimer's Association (800-272-3900) and asking for their guidance in finding a specialist in your area.

One of the best specialists I know is Dr. Rodman Shankle, an Internationally recognized specialist in Alzheimer's disease and related disorders. I was so honored when he contributed the addendum for my book, Elder Rage, which helped make it required reading at numerous universities for courses in geriatric assessment and management. I just love that young new doctors have to read my book, because they will be better educated on how to recognize early signs of Alzheimer's and treat it properly.

Dr. Shankle is Chief Medical Director for Medical Care Corporation, and has a great website with the latest information on prevention, early detection and delay of Alzheimer's and other memory disorders. There is also a FREE online test called the Memory Screen, which is 94 percent accurate in detecting the earliest changes due to Alzheimer's and related disorders. If you are concerned about your memory, or the memory of a loved one, I highly recommend you take the test to get a baseline. A detailed report is generated for sharing with your physician, which will be helpful if you want a referral to a specialist. They also have products for healthcare professionals, including a highly accurate memory assessment test called the MCI (Mild Cognitive Impairment) Screen.

The bottom line is: With EARLY-EARLY-EARLY diagnosis and treatment, the progression of dementia (Alzheimer's is one type) can be slowed down, buying time for medical science to come up with better treatments (hopefully a cure) and keep people in the early stage and independent longer--delaying fulltime care.

You can learn more about Jacqueline and find information about her book at