Many Alzheimer's Cases Go Unrecognized: Report
TUESDAY, Sept. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Diagnosing and treating Alzheimer's disease early is essential if patients
are to benefit from the medications currently used for this dementia,
a new report stresses.
However, most people with the condition are diagnosed late in the progression
of the disease, which results in a "treatment gap" that limits
access to information, treatment, care and support, according to the report
released Tuesday by Alzheimer's Disease International. All this compounds
the problems for patients, families, caregivers, communities and health
"The most important thing about this report is that it confirms the
importance of early diagnosis and that interventions are possible because
of it for Alzheimer's and other dementias," said Robert J. Egge,
vice president for public policy and advocacy at the Alzheimer's Association.
In the United States, Alzheimer's and other dementia are a "crisis,"
he said. "Part of what makes it a crisis is that it is so under-recognized.
One of the places it is not recognized is in the doctor's office."
Many patients go undiagnosed, which means even the limited treatments available
aren't started soon enough, he said. Doctors need to be aware of dementia
and how to diagnose it early, Egge added.
But there is a worldwide lack of awareness, he noted.
"Failure to diagnose Alzheimer's in a timely manner represents
a tragic missed opportunity to improve the quality of life for millions
of people," Dr. Daisy Acosta, chair of Alzheimer's Disease International,
said in a statement from King's College London. "It only adds
to an already massive global health, social and fiscal challenge."
Patients, according to Egge, say one of their biggest problems is getting
their condition recognized. "They feel like they are adrift too often,
with their loved ones trying to care for them without support," he said.
According to the report:
- Of the estimated 36 million people with dementia worldwide, 75 percent
have not been diagnosed.
- Failure to diagnose is based on the false belief that dementia is a normal
part of aging and nothing can be done about it.
- Drugs and psychological treatment can improve cognition, independence and
quality of life.
- Governments should spend money on diagnosis and treatment to reduce the
costs of care later.
"Over the past year, the research team has reviewed thousands of scientific
studies detailing the impact of early diagnosis and treatment, and we
have found evidence to suggest real benefits for patients and caregivers,"
Marc Wortmann, executive director of Alzheimer's Disease International,
said in the statement.
The report recommends that governments:
- Teach physicians and other health care professionals to detect dementia early.
- Create networks of specialist centers to confirm early-stage dementia and
enact care plans.
- Publicize interventions that are effective in improving cognitive function,
treating depression, improving caregiver mood and delaying institutionalization.
- Spend more money on research.
"There is no single way to close the treatment gap worldwide,"
lead report author Dr. Martin Prince, from King's College London Institute
of Psychiatry, said in the statement. "What is clear is that every
country needs a national dementia strategy that promotes early diagnosis
and a continuum of care thereafter. Primary care services, specialist
diagnostic and treatment centers and community-based services all have
a part to play, but to differing degrees, depending upon resources."
For patients, Egge suggested that people who think they have dementia "pursue
the diagnosis when you see the warning signs of Alzheimer's or other
dementia; seek out care from professionals; let them know your concerns
and pursue this until you get the answers you need."
For more on Alzheimer's disease, visit the
U.S. National Library of Medicine.
SOURCES: Robert J. Egge, vice president, public policy and advocacy, Alzheimer's
Association; King's College London, statement, Sept. 13, 2011; Sept.
13, 2011, Alzheimer's Disease International,
World Alzheimer Report 2011 "The Benefits of Early Diagnosis and Intervention"