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Survey Finds Year Long Delay between Onset of Alzheimer’s and Consulting a Doctor

  [ 230 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ] • February 25, 2002

A survey of 500 family Alzheimer's disease patient caregivers found there is often a long delay between the time when the first signs of Alzheimer's disease symptoms occur, and when the patients or family members seek medical advice. For most caregivers, the appearance of symptoms is not enough for them to believe that something is significantly wrong with the person for whom they provide care.

According to a Harris Interactive Survey, the early signs of Alzheimer's disease often go unrecognized or are dismissed as normal signs of aging. The results show many months or even years can pass before a physician's advice is sought. On average, caregivers report that more than a year had passed between the first signs and symptoms of the disease, and when a physician was first consulted.

Among caregivers who say that at least six months had passed between the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease symptoms and consulting a physician, 57% say a physician was not consulted sooner because they believed what they were observing were the normal signs of aging.

Thirty-one percent reported a physician was not consulted sooner because of denial.

Many caregivers come to regret their failure to recognize early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease or to seek medical advice. Many caregivers say that they would have sought medical advice earlier if they had known that medication was available. Almost all caregivers say they would advise others who suspect Alzheimer's disease to take action, or to seek a diagnosis quickly.

Survey Figures

The average time between the first signs or symptoms of Alzheimer's disease and the contact of a physician was 12.8 months.

Forty-one percent of caregivers believed, "it would have been better had a doctor been consulted sooner after the first symptoms appeared."

Sixty-eight percent were not aware that any prescription medications for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease existed at the time a physician was consulted.

Forty-seven percent said that a physician would have been consulted sooner had they or others known that prescription medications were available to treat Alzheimer's disease.

Ninety-six percent would advise someone who suspects Alzheimer's disease in themselves or loved one to take action or seek diagnosis quickly.

Sixty-two percent believed that diagnosis of Alzheimer's during the early stages of the disease is very beneficial and 20% somewhat beneficial.

Most family caregivers are women, and their average age is 48. Male caregivers tend to be about a decade older. The majority of caregivers is living with the person for whom they provide care and, on average, has been providing care for that person for close to four years.

Two out of three caregivers are providing care to a parent or the parent of a spouse, and spouses were significantly more likely than other caregivers to be the first to notice symptoms.

The Alzheimer's disease symptoms most frequently noted as the first indications that something was wrong included forgetting things more often, like names or phone numbers (20%), being confused about what day it is or how to get home (20%), and having trouble completing complicated tasks (14%).

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