The label … how soon to use it?
There was a story in The New York Times yesterday about spinal taps diagnosing Alzheimer’s. Definitively. Here is the story:
In a nutshell, researchers say that a study of a patient’s spinal fluid can be 100 percent accurate in diagnosing Alzheimer’s because it shows the presence of the proteins that signal Alzheimer’s. This is a double-edged sword. On the plus side, early diagnosis means early treatment and being better prepared for the future. These patients might be able to enroll in studies earlier, as well, which will surely benefit us all. But on the other hand, as one of the doctors in the story pointed out, how early do we really want to “label” someone as having Alzheimer’s?
In an ideal world with no prejudices, with unlimited compassion, and a bottomless supply of health care dollars, as early as possible, I suppose. But the reality is we live in a world of escalating health care costs. The passage of health care reform in our country means that eventually no one can be denied medical insurance. Pre-existing conditions may not prevent you from buying insurance, though that insurance is going to cost you more than your healthy counterpart. And as I’ve said before, we live in a society that is uncomfortable with old people, especially old sick people.
For these reasons, it’s difficult for me to even consider the question of how early to label someone as having Alzheimer’s.
As an update: Perhaps it’s the way the doctor phrased the question about how soon to “label” someone. Why call it a label at all? This is a person, someone’s daughter, mother, son, father. I don’t want to see myself as a disease, but as a person.