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Undiagnosed Dementia Ups Risk Of Older Adults To Perform Dangerous Activities

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Older adults with undiagnosed dementia may have a higher risk of performing dangerous activities than those with official diagnosis, a new study found.

More specifically, researchers from Johns Hopkins University discovered that elderly people with suspected dementia who have not received a diagnosis is almost twice as likely to engage in unsafe activities such as driving, managing medications and cooking than those who are properly diagnosed.

The study emphasizes the need for patients and families to detect the memory disorder so that doctors and relatives can practice protective measures.

"When patients receive a formal dementia diagnosis, their families are typically aware that, at some point, their loved ones will not be able to drive or will need more help with their medicine," says study lead author Halima Amjad. However, she adds that when individuals do not have a diagnosis, relatives and friends may be unaware that difficulties in functional tasks are already present.

Looking At The Link

To investigate, the team looked into the data of 7,609 older adults aged 65 years old and above. They interviewed these participants from time to time and conducted physical and cognitive tests to see their health as they grow old.

The scientists categorized the participants into four groups, which include older adults with probable dementia with official diagnosis, older adults with probable dementia without official diagnosis, older adults with possible dementia and, finally, older adults with no dementia.

The researchers asked these participants about them engaging in potentially hazardous activities such as visiting the doctor alone, cooking, driving and organizing their medications and finances. They also looked into the subjects' living situations such as their risk of falling, presence of unmet needs and whether they live alone or not.

Findings show that participants with either diagnosed or undiagnosed dementia were less likely to perform unsafe activities than those with possible or no dementia. Specifically, driving was noted in only 23 percent of people with probable dementia, which is significantly lesser than the 59 percent and 84 percent of people with possible and no dementia, respectively.

The team, however, found that people with dementia who have not been diagnosed were notably more prone to engaging in hazardous activities than those with official diagnosis. By the numbers, there are 28 percent of people with undiagnosed disorder still driving, while the rate for those with diagnosed dementia was only 17 percent.

Implication Of The Study

The research raises vital concerns about the care for older adults. This includes whether or not the elderly population is receiving sufficient care, updated and correct diagnosis and if patients and families are properly made aware of such diagnoses.

Although doctors are the ones who formally diagnose patients, the initial need to consult and detect problems initially come from the family. Therefore, it is very important for them to be vigilant in determining whether their elderly relatives are at risk of the disorder or not.

In the U.S., approximately 5 million have dementia. Numerous researchers have revealed that about 50 percent of the cases are undiagnosed.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society on June 2.

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