A recent study determined that older people with undiagnosed dementia are more likely to take part in potentially unsafe behaviors than those with the diagnosed disease. Understanding the prevalence could help caregivers focus safety screening and counseling in the elderly, whether they are dementia-diagnosed or not.

It was found that 28 percent of the undiagnosed participants in the study were driving, preparing hot meals, managing finances, managing medications. And attending doctor visits alone, compared to only 17 percent of those with diagnosed dementia that was engaging as well in the same activities, according to the study published in Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

“Just because someone has dementia does not mean they cannot do these things on their own. But if both physicians and families are aware, then they can get safeguards in place,” said study leader Dr. Halima Amjad of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine’s Division of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology in Baltimore.

The most common thing for undiagnosed dementia participants was preparing their meal, almost half of them were doing it, followed by the elderly handling their finances with nearly 30 percent of them
The most common thing for undiagnosed dementia participants was preparing their meal, almost half of them were doing it, followed by the elderly handling their finances with nearly 30 percent of them. Image Credit: Alzheimer’s Reading Room

The diagnosed ones engaging in this activities were only 17 % and 12 %, respectively.

For the cohort study, the team gathered data from the National Health and Aging Trends Study, which is collecting information from 2011. There were more than 7,000 Medicare beneficiaries analyzed aged 65 and older that took part in the research project.

The participants were classified into four groups based on self-reported dementia diagnosis, proxy screening interview, and cognitive testing. This information was used by the researchers to determine which participant could have undiagnosed dementia depending on the results of the previously made tests.

From the four groups, one gathered the dementia-diagnosed participants, which were 457, another those with probable dementia without an official diagnosis, that accounted for 581 and the third one with just possible dementia, which was 996. Those participants without dementia were the vast majority, accounting for 5,575.

After that, the specific activities that could endanger the wellbeing of the people in the study were analyzed in each group by the team of researchers. The study is adjusted as well sociodemographic factors, medical comorbidities, and physical capacity.

Why are they so much elderly undiagnosed?

The reason as why many of the elderly remain officially undiagnosed could vary, but they can go from the disease to be still in its early stages to denial from the patients themselves. According to Amjad, it is likely that some of them are very early stage in the disease which is why it has not been diagnosed yet, but it is known that dementia is underdiagnosed.

Some other reasons include unawareness of the dementia symptoms or even physicians’ reluctance to diagnose formally a condition that currently has no treatment; she commented to Reuters. Ultimately a person with dementia will not be able to complete any of the daily tasks analyzed in the study at all, Amjad said.

There are steps that a family can take while a person is semi-independent, such as using webcams to monitor them or to turn off a stove automatically to avoid an emergency situation. Amin added that early diagnosis helps families to put those safeguards in place and have more time to prepare for safety issues, rather than making decisions in a period of crisis.

Dementia: an umbrella term

Although the common term used is dementia, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) dementia is an “umbrella term for a group of cognitive disorders”. These disorders are typically characterized by memory impairment, as well as marked difficulty in speaking, motor activity, object recognition, and disturbance of executive function, the ability to plan, organize, and abstract.

The most discussed and known form of dementia is Alzheimer disease, even though there are many another present in older adults. This is a progressive disease of the brain that in early stages can cause some memory loss and an increased amount of it with the time, the CDC stated.

Alzheimer usually develops in people over 60 years old, but in some cases, the disease can present itself at a younger age. After 65, the risks of developing the disease doubles with every five-years. According to the CDC, by 85 years old, between 25 and 50 percent of people will exhibit signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

Lowering the chances

There are currently some published studies that have found some measures that could lessen the risk of developing dementia, more specifically Alzheimer. Among the recurrent recommendations were increasing physical activity, having a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, maintaining social engagement, and participating in intellectually stimulating activities.

Other studies suggested that the prevention of diseases that damage blood vessels such as heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes may also lessen the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. There is no cure for the disease, and the available treatments will seek only to decrease the disease’ symptoms, but those will not prevent its progression.
In addition to Alzheimer’s disease, several other diseases are characterized by dementia symptoms, such as vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal dementia, Huntington’s disease, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Source: Journal of the American Geriatrics Society