Dementia affects 47 million people around the world, and that number is expected to triple by 2050. Finding ways to provide more efficient and effective dementia care will be among the world’s top public health priorities in the years ahead.
Alzheimer’s Disease International has released its 2016 World Alzheimer Report: Improving Healthcare for People Living with Dementia. The report explores how dementia is diagnosed around the world and how to make dementia care pathways more efficient and accessible.
Researchers reviewed global data to glean key insights into current challenges facing dementia patients and their families—and solutions to overcome them.
1. Many Are Unaware a Loved One Lives with Dementia
Just 40-50 percent of people living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia around the world have received a diagnosis. There are no known cures for most types of dementia, but early detection brings a host of benefits for individuals suffering from them. Medications such as acetylcholinesterase inhibitors have been shown to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s, for example. Also, early detection is a gateway to health and social care services that will benefit both you and your loved one. Overall, making more timely dementia diagnoses has been identified as a main public health priority going forward.
2. Primary Care Doctors Are Great Dementia Screening Resources
Primary care physicians made an initial diagnosis in about 75 percent of patients with dementia in reviews of routine office visits in the United Kingdom and North America. Physicians have emerged as fantastic “gatekeepers” for early diagnosis of dementia. They’re familiar with their patients’ medical histories and can identify normal signs of aging and symptoms of dementia. Also, limited availability of specialized memory clinics that have traditionally provided dementia screening has been pinpointed as one of the main barriers to early diagnosis. Talking to a loved one’s physician about dementia concerns can be a great place to start.
3. Primary Care Doctors Can Empower Caregivers
Only 32 percent of family caregivers said they were confident in managing a loved one’s dementia care program. However, 42 percent of those who were referred by a geriatrician agreed that their provider had helped them work through dementia care problems. Just 16 percent of those who first met with a neurologist or a psychiatrist said the same. And family members agreed that a loved one’s primary care doctor understood how dementia had complicated other health conditions and provided better advice than specialists about handling those problems in the future. The key takeaway is that primary care physicians can be a great resource for family caregivers both before and after a dementia diagnosis.
4. Reducing Hospital Visits Key to Effective Dementia Care
People with dementia are about 1.5 times more likely to be admitted to a hospital for treatment of a secondary condition. Conditions such as urinary tract infections, pneumonia, chronic renal failure, fractured bones, syncope, superficial injuries, acute bronchitis, cerebrovascular disease, and non-specific chest pain are the most common reasons for hospitalization. On average, hospital stays were 27 percent longer for people with dementia, with some stays as much as 85 percent longer depending on the severity of condition. More frequent and lengthier hospital stays contribute to annual healthcare costs 3.5 times higher for those diagnosed with dementia. Working with a primary care physician to better manage secondary health conditions, and using home health aides to provide near equivalent care at home are the best ways to avoid lengthy hospital stays.
5. End-of-Life Care Planning Is Lacking in Dementia Patients
People with dementia are eight times less likely to have a living wills than people with other life-limiting health conditions. That often results in people with dementia receiving invasive and costly medical interventions such as feeding tubes, laboratory tests, and bed restraints in the final stages of the disease’s progression. By focusing on advanced care planning earlier on, family caregivers can ensure that their loved ones receive higher quality end-of-life care that focuses on managing pain and distressing symptoms of the disease rather than unnecessary and uncomfortable treatments.
Alzheimer’s Statistics You Should Know: In Review
More than half of people who live with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia have not received a diagnosis. Talking to a loved one’s primary care physician about signs of memory loss, confusion, or difficulty with daily tasks can be a great place to start. And keeping your loved one’s primary care physician engaged as an active member of the caregiving team after diagnosis provides greater understanding into how dementia is impacting other health conditions and might help prevent hospital visits that can result from poor management of them. Finally, few people with dementia have made their wishes for end-of-life care known. Talk to your loved ones about their wishes and have them complete a living will.