Was the dementia diagnosis revealed - or not?
In our medical model dominated country, sharing a dementia diagnosis when it is very first discovered by the physician is imperative, as the physician is the trusted source and where all subsequent services flow from. So it was disconcerting to read from the Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures 2015 report from the Alzheimer's Association that "only 45% of people with Alzheimer's disease or their caregivers say they were told the diagnosis by their doctor." In contrast, patients of the 4 most common cancers - breast, colorectal, lung, and prostate - have a 90% rate of disclosure.
Truly, the low rate of disclosure did not surprise me. In my many years as an occupational therapist, I have more than once been left in a difficult and uncomfortable situation where I knew a patient had an Alzheimer's or dementia diagnosis per their medical record, but family was unaware. It is hard to educate and make recommendations around this diagnosis when involved parties are not even aware of its presence. The Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures Report lists these reasons of why physicians may have not disclosed the Alzheimer's diagnosis:
- Not wanting to cause emotional distress
- Uncertainty if the diagnosis was accurate
- Lack of available support services and effective treatments
- The stigma around Alzheimer's disease
It is true that improvements in dementia care are needed: better diagnostic tools and/or referral systems to specialists; more support services with easy accessibility; and increased awareness and conversations about Alzheimer's disease among both professionals and the public at large. But making improvements at the point where the dementia 'journey' begins - with the primary care physician - is a key piece to the flow of the other parts.
Are physicians being trained in dementia care?
It was shared at the recent American Society on Aging Conference, that 85% of medical residents who graduate this year will not have taken a single credit in geriatric care. Training in the different needs of geriatric care is so important. And that training must include dementia care, as one of the biggest risk factors of getting Alzheimer's disease or other dementia is advancing age. Now is the time to ensure new physicians - and current ones - are trained in promptly addressing Alzheimer's disease. After all, knowledge is power and patients and families dealing with Alzheimer's need all the power they can get.
How was the diagnosis experience for the person with dementia you know?