Researchers found in a new study that the majority of Medicare recipients age 65 and older in the U.S. have never been professionally diagnosed or do not know they have probable dementia.
The researchers who published the findings in Journal of General Internal Medicine, say that a strong risk factor for lack of formal diagnosis or awareness of diagnosis, plays in part to many of these patients going to doctor visits unaccompanied.
“There is a huge population out there living with dementia who don't know about it," said Halima Amjad, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the study's lead author in a statement. "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."
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, only half of 5.7 million people in the U.S. living with dementia are properly diagnosed by a physician. If patient’s go unseen, it gets more difficult overtime to improve the patients’ health and planning care.
The group of researchers identified 585 adults from the National Health and Aging Trends Study for their research. Among those with probable dementia, 58.7% were determined to be either undiagnosed or unaware of their diagnosis. The researchers also found that participants who were Hispanic, had less than a high school education, and went to medical visits alone, were more likely to be undiagnosed.
Amjad and the group acknowledged that the study is limited due to the potential of self-reporting dementia diagnoses, possible discrepancies between medical record documentation and billing codes, and the use of older data. However, they believe that these findings can still assist physicians on being more alert to those patients who may need an extra step of 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," said Amjad in a statement.
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