For younger patients, early-onset Alzheimer’s symptoms are usually disregarded or blamed on fatigue, depression or stress.
It often takes a very long time before a young person having problems with memory loss or confusion is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The Concord Monitor reports, in “Stolen Memories: Problems with diagnosis of younger-onset Alzheimer’s, the delay in diagnosis can lead to problems with work and health insurance coverage.
One-third of the people with younger-onset Alzheimer’s, who responded to a 2006 survey by the Alzheimer’s Association said it took them somewhere between one to six years to receive an accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. Subsequent studies by the Alzheimer’s Association have estimated that as many as 50% of people of all ages with the disease never receive a diagnosis.
Unfortunately, there is no easy blood test that can be used to detect the brain disease. Diagnoses are usually confirmed through a combination of neuropsychological exams, analyses of a patient’s family history and costly spinal taps, MRIs, PET and CAT scans to view plaques and tangles in the brain.
Meanwhile, because of this delay, younger people can have issues at work because of the symptoms.
“Families will come in to meet with me and I’ll say, ‘Are you still working?’ and they’ll say, ‘No, I got laid off,’ or, ‘I took an early retirement, because I wasn’t sure what was going on,’ and lo and behold they realized later they had Alzheimer’s,” said Melissa Grenier, manager of the New Hampshire Alzheimer’s Association.
Because of the time it takes to get an accurate diagnosis, patients with early dementia frequently are fired or move from job to job. Most patients displaying symptoms are not aware of it at the time. As a result, it can be discouraging and frustrating.
If a person had a heart condition, they would be aware of the illness and would be able to work with their employer to ensure that they continued to have a job and health insurance coverage and/or disability insurance coverage. However, if they are fired or stop working before receiving an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, they will lose the financial safety net. Treating a condition like Alzheimer’s costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The person with Alzheimer’s is usually the last to know that there are issues. Those patients who are aware of changes in behavior, can be reluctant to speak with their employer. They fear that they could lose their positions.
Families facing early-onset Alzheimer’s should speak with an elder lawyer. This is not an easy situation, and professional help will be needed.
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