12 Benefits of Early Detection in Alzheimer's Disease

How Testing and Early Diagnosis Is Helpful in Dementia

You may wonder why clinicians advocate for an early diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. After all, might that just result in a longer time for people to experience feelings of hopelessness and grief?

If there was nothing that could be done in response to a diagnosis of Alzheimer's, many might advocate for delaying diagnosis for as long as possible. However, there are actually many reasons to see your physician earlier, rather than later, if you or your loved one is experiencing symptoms of early stage dementia.

Brain scan in a petri dish illustrating research into dementia and other brain disorders
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1. Rule Out Reversible and Treatable Causes of Dementia

There are multiple conditions besides Alzheimer's that can share some of the same characteristics, some of which are treatable and even reversible. And often, the earlier they're identified and treated, the better the outcome. These can include vitamin B12 deficiency, normal pressure hydrocephalus, delirium, thyroid problems, and depression.

2. More Opportunities to Participate in Clinical Trials

Many clinical trials are only open to people in the early stages of Alzheimer's. Some require that the person with the dementia be able to agree to participate and demonstrate an understanding of the clinical trial. Several medications being tested target those who are in the early stages. An early diagnosis allows you to be eligible for more clinical trials, and to be more likely to benefit from the clinical trial drug or treatment approach.

3. Medications Are Often More Effective in Early Alzheimer's

In general, the medications that are already approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration are more likely to be helpful early in the disease process. This is because their effectiveness is quite limited and often seems to result in maintaining the person's current functioning, and thus, slowing the disease process, rather than reversing the symptoms. Some people do respond quite well and report an improvement when on medications, while others show little to no benefit.

4. Non-Drug Interventions Can Also Delay and Slow Progression

There is some evidence that other interventions besides medication, such as complementary and alternative approaches, can help slow down the progression of Alzheimer's disease. This can include physical exercise, mental exercise, meaningful activities, and more.

5. Time to Plan for Medical and Financial Decisions

A diagnosis while still in the early stages can allow the person with dementia to participate in the decisions about his care and treatment, which can include things like designating a medical power of attorney and a financial power of attorney; writing out a living will in which medical care choices, such as a do not resuscitate order, can be specified; and discussing the person's options and preferences, such as home health care and care facilities.

6. Provides an Answer

Feelings after a diagnosis of Alzheimer's can vary significantly. Some people find that, despite the difficulty of hearing this diagnosis, having a name for the symptoms they've been experiencing is helpful.

7. Provides Time to Record Memories

With a progressive disease such as Alzheimer's, some people choose to be intentional about recording meaningful memories of the person with dementia. There are many ways to do this, including writing, photos, videos and more. These memories can serve as a wonderful way to cherish your loved one, share their personality and life story with caregivers, and trigger recollections as you talk with your family member.

8. Offers the Caregiver More Understanding and Patience

Some family members have expressed feelings of guilt after a diagnosis because they've been irritated, frustrated or short-tempered with their loved one, not knowing that her forgetfulness or behaviors were not intentional. An early diagnosis has the potential to help the caregiver understand early on how best to understand and support the person living with dementia.

9. Qualify for Disability if You're Still Working

If you have early onset Alzheimer's and are still working, you might be able to qualify for disability benefits if you become unable to work.

10. Improve Safety

An early diagnosis can provide you with time to identify and address safety concerns. These can include driving, errors in medication administration, wandering, and risks in the home.

11. Become Informed About What to Expect

For both the person with Alzheimer's and her family members, there's a benefit to knowing what you can expect as the disease progresses. Learning about the stages of Alzheimer's might be difficult at times, but it's generally helpful to know what's typical, and how you might be able to plan for those changes.

12. Benefit From Support Groups

Support groups can provide encouragement and education, both for the person living with dementia and for the caregiver. People with Alzheimer's and their family members can often feel isolated and are at risk for depression. Connecting with others through support groups can allow people to share specific situations and suggestions, and learn how others cope with the challenges of Alzheimer's.

A Word From Verywell

Understandably, it can be worrisome if you experience, or see in a loved one, the symptoms of cognitive decline. While your first impulse may be to ignore the concern and hope that it will just go away, remember that early attention and screening may result in significant benefits, including the treatment of a potentially reversible condition or the ability to respond more effectively to medications and other treatments.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

By Esther Heerema, MSW
Esther Heerema, MSW, shares practical tips gained from working with hundreds of people whose lives are touched by Alzheimer's disease and other kinds of dementia.