Study: doctors diagnosing severe, moderate dementia at first evaluations

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- A new study claims dementia patients are not undergoing evaluation soon enough, delaying treatment by doctors.

The study,  published by doctors at Spectrum Health,  found that almost 80 percent of patients had already developed moderate to severe dementia at the time of their diagnosis.

“The findings indicate that people are living with dementia for significant periods of time before seeking diagnosis and treatment,” said Timothy Thoits, MD, lead author and neurology division chief, Spectrum Health Medical Group.

The late diagnosis, according to the study, is due to individuals not noticing the signs and undergoing an evaluation at the onset of the disease.

"When we diagnose dementia we would like to diagnose it early so we can get started pretty quickly with medical management, medications and lifestyle changes," Thoits said.

The study suggests home-based, patient-centered care as a way to improve early screening and detection of dementia.

"Dementia is when we have trouble with memory plus other cognitive skills," Thoits said. "It begins gradually, it has to be progressive and those deficits have to inhabit our ability to carry out our normal activities of daily living."

The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer's disease which makes up 60 to 70 percent of cases.

Caregivers, spouses and relatives can help people get earlier diagnosis, according to Thoits there are signs and symptoms that can be warning signs of the disease.

  • Trouble completing everyday tasks
  • Inability to find misplaced items
  • Decrease ability to focus or pay attention
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Mood changes or changes in personality
  • Struggling to communicate
  • Changes in judgment and reasoning
  • Struggling to adapt to change
  • Loss of motivation or apathy

"The benefit of diagnosing early is the medications slow down the progression of dementia and the sooner we start that the better we will be and the sooner we can start the life style changes, the better off people are going to be," Thoits said.

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