Alzheimer’s: Catch them early

Posted by: admin on: January 17, 2012

Canadians are still dismissing symptoms of dementia as “just old age” based on survey results released by the Alzheimer Society. Close to 50 % of Canadians lived a year or more with their symptoms before seeing a family doctor. Of these, 16 % waited more than 2 years. The delay in diagnosis results in a huge treatment gap and prevents people from getting valuable information about medications, support and better disease management.


  • Online survey conducted by the Society revealed that 53 % was the belief that the symptoms were part of “old age” and would eventually go away and 39 % said their symptoms were episodic or didn’t take them seriously enough.
  • Quarter of them either refused to see a doctor or saw no need to go unless symptoms grew worse.
  • Three-quarters of respondents – caregivers of people with dementia – admitted that they wished they had sought a diagnosis sooner to have access to treatments to manage symptoms.
  • 78% respondents said that early diagnosis would help them put their legal and financial affairs in order; 69% said it would keep the person with dementia at home longer, and allow the person to actively participate in decision-making. 62% respondents attributed better coping and living with the disease to early diagnosis.
  • Symptoms of dementia are different from normal aging, says Carolyn Cybulski with the Alzheimer Society of Sault Ste. Marie and Algoma District.
  • He said that we need to help people in our community recognize the symptoms for what they are: signs of a brain disorder that will affect 1.1 million Canadians in the next 25 years.
  • While we don’t yet have a cure, we can offer treatment that may slow the progression of the disease, and a wealth of information to help people prepare for their future needs, he added.
  • Dr Francine Lemire of the College of Family Physicians of Canada agreed that  Dementia is a complex disease but a diagnosis can be reassuring for both the person exhibiting symptoms and their family and with early diagnosis, medications can help minimize symptoms and improve quality of life.

Early diagnosis, earlier intervention, better treatment

  • In October 2011 the Alzheimer Society commissioned a nationally representative online survey to determine how long people wait after noticing symptoms before seeing a doctor; their reasons for not seeking a diagnosis and their awareness of the benefits of an early diagnosis.

Key findings

  • Low awareness of the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia causes a delay in diagnosis and a subsequent treatment gap for people with dementia.
  • 44 % of respondents waited a year and 16 % of these waited two years or more before seeing a doctor because they thought their symptoms were just the signs of “old age,” or would go away
  • 39 % thought their symptoms were episodic or said they didn’t take them seriously enough.
  • Over a quarter of the people with the symptoms refused to see their doctor or saw no need to go unless symptoms grew worse.
  • Three quarters of survey respondents wished they had known sooner.
  • The most important reason for getting an earlier diagnosis was access to medications to minimize symptoms.
  • Other reasons given were more time to prepare for the future and ability to understand what was happening to the person with dementia.
  • Memory loss continues to be the most frequently mentioned symptom, but others symptoms are also significant.
  • 75 % of respondents listed frequent memory loss as one of the early signs.
  • 65% also listed disorientation of time and place, such as getting lost in familiar places or not knowing what month or year it is.
  • 64 % listed changes in personality or acting out of character, like becoming suspicious, fearful or confused.
  • Family doctors play an essential role in getting an early diagnosis.
    1. 83 % of respondents visited their family doctor first.
    2. 49 % of these were diagnosed by the family doctor.
    3. 51 % were diagnosed within six months.

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