New Alzheimer's Disease Survey Reveals Disparities Between Beliefs and Behavior In Pursuing Diagnosis
Results of this study indicate the need for adults over age 55 to know the signs of Alzheimer's and take immediate action once symptoms are suspected.
The Alzheimer’s Disease Screening Discussion Group (ADSDG) was formed in the fall
of 2007 to discuss the value of early screening and detection of Alzheimer’s disease and to raise awareness of the early signs and symptoms of the disease. During 2007 and early 2008, the group focused on screening for Alzheimer’s disease. This fall we have focused on better understanding current attitudes, perceptions, and knowledge regarding Alzheimer’s disease and how these factors might affect early diagnosis and treatment. To accomplish this, we recently commissioned Harris Interactive (The same group that produces the highly respected Harris Poll) to conduct an online poll of 1040 adults over the age of 55.
The key finding is that although Alzheimer’s disease is threatening to reach epidemic
proportions over the next 40 years, there is a surprising lack of knowledge among the
general public. Although about one half of those over 55 have known someone with AD,
almost all of those polled (98%) were confused about the signs and symptoms of the
disease. This lack of knowledge revealed by the survey suggests the need for increased awareness of disease signs and symptoms, as well as the advantages of early diagnosis and treatment.
The major results of the survey include:
The Responsibility Lies with Loved Ones: Most Americans believe that the
responsibility for detecting Alzheimer’s disease lies with those close to the patient.
• 74% believe that a family member is most likely to recognize the need for
screening in a potential AD patient.
• 94% agree that if they thought a loved one had AD, they would encourage them to
get a diagnosis as soon as possible
Lack of Knowledge is Surprising: Despite most Americans over age 55 having personal
experience with AD and believing that close family and friends should be an integral part of recognizing the disease in a loved one, they lack of knowledge about the disease.
• Although about 75 percent believe they could notice the signs of AD in
themselves or a loved one, more than 90 percent could not accurately distinguish
early disease symptoms from late disease symptoms or symptoms unrelated to
• Put in the form of a report card for knowledge about AD, only about 9% of adults
over the age of 55 received and A, but 43% received an F (11% received a B,
17% received a C, and 20% received a D).
Earlier is Better for Detection and Action: Most adults over age 55 believe early
screening and action is good, if not essential, in detecting AD.
• More than 90 percent believe screening should occur in the early stages as soon as
symptoms are suspected, and about 75 percent believe it is important to do routine
screenings as part of a physical exam for adults over age 65.
• The vast majority of adults over age 55 (96 %) think there are benefits to getting
screened for AD early, including timely medical treatment and the chance to
prepare financially, emotionally and medically.
Behavior Doesn’t Mirror Belief: Despite overwhelming public support for early AD
screening and action, people do not typically follow-through on their intentions when
confronted with the disease head-on.
• Very few adults (27%) over the age of 55 who suspected a loved one had AD,
encouraged them to be screened. They also did not (only 38%) encourage them to
have a conversation with their doctor regarding AD.
These results are particularly troubling because AD symptoms are typically detected by a close friend or relative, and without the ability to do so, patients don’t get diagnosed until symptoms are far along. Not only can early treatment help treat the symptoms of the disease, but an early diagnosis also gives the patient and their loved ones more time to adjust to the news and make important legal, financial and medical decisions together before the disease advances. Additionally with the emergence of medications that are aimed at slowing down the loss of brain cells and hopefully slowing progression of the disease, early detection becomes even more important.