Many Dementia Patients Were Never Screened

Dementia patients who were married were much more likely to have been screened than those who were single

(RxWiki News) Getting early treatment for dementia can improve patients' health. Many people, however, aren't getting screened for the disorder in the first place.

Early screening can help people with dementia receive the care they need and allow families to plan ahead. However, most people who developed dementia were never screened, a new study found.

Patients who were married were much more likely to be screened for dementia than those who were single, the authors of this study found.

The research team, led by Vikas Kotagal, MD, of the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor, MI, found that 55 percent of patients with dementia had never been screened.

"These results suggest that approximately 1.8 million Americans over the age of 70 with dementia have never had an evaluation of their cognitive abilities," Dr. Kotagal said in a press release. "Yet early evaluation and identification of people with dementia may help them receive care earlier. Our results show that the number and proximity of children is no substitute for having a spouse as a caregiver when it comes to seeking medical care for memory problems for a loved one."

Dementia can affect patients' ability to think clearly or perform daily tasks. Symptoms of dementia are often subtle and develop slowly over time. Family members and doctors may not recognize what’s happening if the patient is not screened.

For instance, people with dementia might walk to the grocery store and be unable to find their way back. Dementia screening can identify the symptoms early — before an accident occurs.

Dr. Kotagal and colleagues selected 845 patients from a larger study called the Health and Retirement Study. They evaluated patients in this smaller group for dementia. The patients were 70 years old or older.

Of the study patients, 297 had dementia. Fifty-five percent of those people had never seen a doctor for their memory or thinking problems.

People who were married, however, were more than twice as likely as people who were not married to have seen a doctor.

Dr. Kotagal and team didn't study why patients weren’t screened, but they did point to some possibilities. Patients who live alone may be reluctant to bring up memory issues with a doctor. They may fear losing their independence. Children may be reluctant to bring the issue up with a parent who is having symptoms. A spouse, however, may be more willing to speak to his or her spouse about dementia symptoms, these researchers noted.

In dementia screening, doctors will typically ask about patients' medical history and any recent changes in thinking or memory. Tests that look at thinking, memory, writing, speech and reaction times are common in dementia screening.

Early screening can help with patient care, the study authors said. For instance, a patient who develops dementia because of a stroke needs good blood pressure control to prevent another stroke. The patient or caregiver can take extra precautions, such as making sure to take medications or checking blood pressure regularly.

Early screening could also help families prepare for the possibility of long-term care.

This study was published online Nov. 26 in Neurology.

The University of Michigan, the National Institute on Aging and the University of Utah funded the research. Dr. Kotagal received funding from the American Academy of Neurology Clinical Research Training Fellowship and the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation. Dr. Foster provided unpaid services to the Alzheimer’s Association and received funding from Bristol-Myers Squibb and Lilly, which make medications.

Review Date: 
November 25, 2014