The Alzheimer's Association released its 2015 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures report Tuesday, revealing that just 45 percent of those with the disease are aware of their condition. This figure is small considering over 90 percent of patients diagnosed with breast, colorectal, lung and prostate cancers, the four most common cancers, know about their disease.
According to Beth Kallmyer, M.S.W., Constituent Services vice president for the Alzheimer's Association, the low rates of disclosure are reminiscent of the time when discussing cancer was considered taboo back in the 1950s and 1960s. It is important to inform patients of their condition because not only it is their right to know what is happening in their bodies but also that they may be given the opportunity to take an active role in planning for their care.
Additionally, the report found that when patients or their caregivers are indeed informed about the presence of Alzheimer's, it's mostly done after the disease has already progressed. According to healthcare providers, however, delays in disclosing Alzheimer's diagnoses are generally done out of a concern for the patient's emotional well-being. Being diagnosed with the disease will be distressing, after all, and healthcare professionals want to avoid stressing out a patient.
Still, the Alzheimer's Association maintains that advising an individual about an Alzheimer's diagnosis should be standard practice. Discussions may be carried out in a supportive and sensitive manner anyway, plus studies have shown that patients actually rarely become depressed or suffer other long-term emotional issues after being told they have Alzheimer's.
"The findings from this report [also] shine a light on the need for more education for medical students and practicing health care providers on how to effectively make and deliver an Alzheimer's diagnosis," added William Klunk, M.D., Ph.D., Medical and Scientific Advisory Council chair at the Alzheimer's Association.
Clearly and promptly discussing a diagnosis has been shown to be beneficial by several studies. Benefits of doing so include active participation in care planning and better access to medical care and complementary support services. At the same time, patients are also given the opportunity to participate in clinical trials to advance research and they'll be given more time to accomplish what they need to and set their affairs in order.
According to the report, about 5.3 million Americans will be living with Alzheimer's disease in 2015. By the middle of the century, one American will be developing the disease every 33 seconds.
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