The New York Times reported this week that medical experts are proposing changes to the criteria for diagnosing Alzheimer's Disease. The objective of the changes is to diagnose (and eventually treat) the disease earlier. You can read the article here.
This is exciting news on several fronts. The most obvious is that through early diagnosis, the new drugs being developed can reduce or prevent the kind of debilitation experienced by Alzheimer patients currently.
More subtly, an earlier diagnosis (and therefore communication with patient and family members) will improve the ability of all to cope with the disease. My experience may not be typical, but I did not receive a clear diagnosis of my mother's illness until she was no longer capable of looking after herself. During the five years of her gradual decline, this left me struggling with how to provide care for her all alone. Without the word "Alzheimer" attached to her illness, I didn't know how to access the coping resources that are available. It may not have been physically easier and I may not have done things differently, but I would have coped much better mentally/emotionally had I known what was happening and what was likely to happen as the disease progressed.
Until these guidelines are adopted, beware when the doctor says "dementia".