More older people may have undiagnosed dementia than previously thought

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In a new study from the University of Michigan, researchers found only 1 in 10 older adults who were found to have cognitive impairment consistent with dementia reported a formal medical diagnosis of the condition.

They used data from the Health and Retirement Study to develop a nationally representative sample of roughly 6 million Americans age 65 or older.

The team found that 91% of people with cognitive impairment consistent with dementia told questioners they had no formal medical diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

When proxy reporters (generally, family members) responded, the prevalence dropped from 91% to around 75%, which is still very significant.

While many people may have been diagnosed and remain unaware or forgot about their diagnosis, what’s concerning is that cognitive assessment, specifically dementia screening, isn’t routine during annual visits for older adults.

COVID-19 gives these numbers heightened significance because people with dementia have a higher risk for hospitalization and death following an infection.

COVID-19 also causes long-standing brain effects in some people, perhaps increasing the risk for future dementia-related diagnoses.

The team says that now more than ever, these routine screenings and assessments are really critical.

They suggest that the migration to telemedicine during the COVID-19 pandemic further underscores the importance of cognitive assessments.

The prevalence of not having reported a dementia-related diagnosis, despite being identified as living with a cognitive impairment consistent with dementia, differed by gender, education and race.

The Medicare visit is supposed to include a cognitive screening, but it can be difficult to ascertain a cognitive concern in a 20-minute annual visit, she said. Adding a specific cognitive assessment can also take up visit time.

The team encourages open communication and reminds families that they can still share information with the loved one’s provider directly or through a nurse or medical assistant.

If you care about dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, please read studies about new breakthrough in Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis and treatment and findings of lack of this stuff could be the key to Alzheimer’s disease.

For more information about dementia and your health, please see recent studies about major surgery may boost Alzheimer’s disease risk and results showing that scientists develop blood test for early detection of Alzheimer’s disease.

The study is published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. One author of the study is Sheria Robinson-Lane.

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