Majority of older adults with probable dementia are likely unaware they have it

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A Johns Hopkins Medicine analysis of information gathered for an ongoing and federally sponsored study of aging and disability adds to evidence that a substantial majority of older adults with probable dementia in the United States have never been professionally diagnosed or are unaware they have been.

A report of the findings was published in the July issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine. Most of the findings, the researchers say, confirm previous similar estimates, but unaccompanied visits to a doctor or clinic emerged as a newly strong risk factor for lack of formal diagnosis or awareness of diagnosis.

“There is a huge population out there living with dementia who don’t know about it,” says Halima Amjad, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the study’s lead author. “The implications are potentially profound for health care planning and delivery, patient-physician communication and much more,” she says.

Overall, Amjad says, “If dementia is less severe and people are better able to perform day-to-day tasks independently, symptoms of cognitive loss are more likely masked, especially for patients who visit the doctor without a family member or friend who may be more aware of the patient’s symptoms.”

An estimated 5.7 million people in the United States live with dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, but only half of those have a documented, official diagnosis by a physician. Timely diagnosis is important for maintaining or improving health and planning care, says Amjad, so it’s important to identify which populations are less likely to be diagnosed or less likely to be aware of their diagnosis.

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