Alzheimer’s Disease – Even Your Doctor May Not Know

Every 67 seconds someone in the United States is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.*  Sadly, it might be even more often.  We just don’t know for sure.

Doctors are much more likely to level with patients who have cancer than patients who have Alzheimer’s, according to a report released recently by the Alzheimer’s Association. What’s more, only 45 percent of Medicare recipients who had been been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease said they were informed of the diagnosis by their doctor.

“What we found is really shocking,” Beth Kallmyer, vice president of constituent services for the Alzheimer’s Association, told NPR .”This is reminiscent of what happened in the 1960s and 1970s with cancer. But that’s changed now, and it really needs to change for Alzheimer’s as well.”

“The association decided to do an overview of Medicare records and previous survey results between 2008 and 2010,” Kallmyer said, “because they had been receiving complaints for years from family members who said that their doctors were reluctant to be forthright about whether or not their loved ones had the condition.”

CBS News reports the researchers found that patients were more likely to be told they had the disease after it had become more advanced.

“Failing to notify Alzheimer’s patients of their diagnosis in the disease’s early stages also means that they miss out on clinical trials that might improve their condition, given that most trials only accept people with early Alzheimer’s,” Kallmyer told CBS.

The CBS report goes on to say that doctors are many times hesitant to bring bad news as they are afraid of causing ‘emotional trauma.’

The Elder Law Prof Blog points out that a timely diagnosis allows families to get early advice about non-medical planning too, and to make financial arrangements while the patient is still able to take part in the decision-making process.

Younger people are not immune.

While most people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s are older than age 65, it can occur in people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s. In fact early-onset Alzheimer’s disease accounts for up to 10% of Alzheimer’s cases. Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the US, affecting more than 5 million Americans.  There is no cure.

Now researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Florida say they have identified a subtype variant of the disease, complicating things even more.

Misdiagnosis Common says the Mayo Clinic

A new report this month (May 2015) from a research team, led by Dr. Melissa Murray, an assistant professor of neuroscience at the Mayo Clinic, says their study suggests that around 600,000 Americans may have this variant, which they call “hippocampal sparing” Alzheimer’s disease.

Bottom line:  Alzheimer’s disease does not necessarily equate to loss of memory.  Dr. Murray further notes that because many of these patients have a “near normal” memory ability, they are often misdiagnosed.

Call Theodoros & Rooth if you have concerns

Most doctors strive to provide careful treatment with a patient’s best interests in mind.   However, if you or a loved one believes that careless neglect has caused a serious condition or a life-threatening situation,  contact us.

Theodoros & Rooth has over 110 years of combined experience handling personal injury cases, including malpractice.  The consultation is free.

Taking care of you and your family with respect, understanding and compassion is what we do at Theodoros & Rooth.

For basic information on Alzheimer’s disease download the booklet,  The Basics of Alzheimer’s Disease:  What it is and what you can do.

*Statistics from the Alzheimer’s Association of America