Late diagnosis hinders even the limited treatments available, experts say.
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 professionals.
“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.