Why Alzheimer  s Disease Goes Undiagnosed

Too many people ignore subtle signs and symptoms of dementia and, as a result, are diagnosed when the disease is already advanced—or, in most cases, never diagnosed at all.

That's right. According to a new report by the U.K.-based Alzheimer's Disease International, a consortium of international Alzheimer's federations, as many as 75 percent of approximately 36 million people around the globe who have dementia are never diagnosed. In high-income nations only one fifth to one half of cases are diagnosed, and in low- and middle-income nations the figure falls to as few as one in ten.

Why is diagnosis—and particularly early diagnosis—so important? According to the experts involved in preparing the report, even early-stage intervention can make a difference in the course of the disease. Properly identifying the disease benefits the patient, caregivers, and community at large. A diagnosis means:

  • The patient may be given medications and/or psychological interventions in the early stages of the disease that can boost cognitive function and prolong independence.
  • Caregivers can receive support and counseling to assist them through what is undoubtedly a difficult time.
  • The healthcare system may be less taxed by the institutionalization of a late-stage dementia patient.
  • There is more time to plan for the future.

Don't accept the idea that memory problems are an inevitable part of aging or that Alzheimer's is too difficult to accurately diagnose. If your loved one seems to have diminished mental function, talk to a physician. If the physician does not take the issue seriously or lacks the skill necessary to diagnose Alzheimer's, ask for a referral to a specialist who is qualified. Experts say that a qualified doctor can diagnose Alzheimer's with 90 percent accuracy. You might talk to a neurologist, who specializes in diseases of the brain, a psychiatrist, who deals with mood disorders, or a psychologist, who has training in testing memory and other mental functions. A thorough medical evaluation is in order, also, to make sure there are no underlying physical causes for memory issues.




Alzheimer's Association

Alzheimer's Disease International