The importance of monitoring cognitive health for the early signs of dementia cannot be understated, and yet, many people remain unaware of the need to do so. As a result, a large part of the population is missing out on the benefits that can be gained from early diagnosis. In direct response to this problem, we have prepared a thorough guide to early dementia detection.
This 5-part series will explore the definition of early detection, associated statistics, benefits, related research, and methods that are used to assess people for the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. To begin, we will clarify the meaning of early detection and review a few troublesome statistics that highlight the necessity of being evaluated for the early signs of dementia.
What is “Early Dementia Detection”?
The first distinction we need to make is that early-onset dementia and the detection of early dementia symptoms are two different concepts entirely. Some forms of dementia can develop much earlier in the lifespan than typical forms (like early-onset Alzheimer’s disease). A test for the early signs of dementia is designed to detect the symptoms of the disease as early in its progression as possible. Early detection applies to all types of dementia, and not exclusively to early-onset forms.
Ideally, researchers hope to find reliable biomarkers that signify the development of dementia before any cognitive symptoms arise (also called the prodromal stage). A biomarker is a physical substance (proteins, fats, other molecules, etc.) that can be measured to confirm the presence of a disease. While some advancements have been made in this area using positron emission tomography (PET) scanning and other modern technologies, there has yet to be a breakthrough in reliable and easily accessible ways to detect prodromal dementia.
Currently, the best method for early dementia detection is taking part in regular cognitive evaluations that were specifically designed for the task, like the SAGE test on which the BrainTest® app is based.
Early Detection Statistics
According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, the worldwide prevalence of dementia was estimated to be around 50 million people in 2017, with the number expected to double every 20 years. Startlingly, even in countries with traditionally high-income economies (where barriers to access are much less severe than in impoverished nations), up to 80% of people with dementia may be undiagnosed. Without being professionally diagnosed, these people are unable to gain the benefits of the treatments, care, and support that would otherwise be available to them. Of those who have been diagnosed, the majority of cases begin when a person seeks out assistance because they are already having moderate to severe symptoms. At this point, it is too late to experience the advantages of early detection.
Up Next: The Benefits of Early Dementia Detection
Now that we have a clear understanding of early dementia detection and the need to promote it, we will turn our attention to the many benefits that can be experienced by being diagnosed early in its progression. Check out the next installment in our 5-part series to continue the journey toward safeguarding your cognitive health.