Many People with Dementia Don’t Know They Have the Illness, Study Finds

A study by Dr. Halima Amjad examined 585 Medicare recipients and found that 6 out of 10 were either unaware that they were suffering from dementia or un-diagnosed. The study was published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine’s July issue.

The oblivious patients were most often under-educated with less than a high school diploma, or went to their doctor appointments alone, or were more functional in their daily tasks. Hispanics were also less aware of their dementia.

“There is a huge population out there living with dementia who don’t know about it,” said study lead author Dr. Amjad, professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. “The implications are potentially profound for health care planning and delivery, patient-physician communication and much more.”

“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,” she added.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association there are about 5.7 million people in the US with dementia. Only about 50% of them have an official doctor’s diagnosis.

Dr. Amjad said that early diagnosis is crucial for maintaining and improving care. The study’s findings can help doctors discover which patients need more careful screening.

“There are subsets of people doctors can focus on when implementing cognitive screening, such as minorities, those with lower levels of education and those who come in by themselves,” Amjad said.