Paradigm Change

While many physicians fear a dementia diagnosis would only further upset an already troubled patient, this follow-up study found quite the opposite.

“We undertook this study because we wanted there to be some data out there that addressed this question and that we could show to physicians and say, ‘Most of the people don’t get depressed, upset and suicidal.

"So, this fear that you have about telling them and disturbing them is probably not legitimate for most people,’” says Brian Carpenter, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University.

In the study, the team followed 90 individuals and their caregivers as they came to the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center for an evaluation.

Sixty-nine percent eventually got a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, but no significant changes in depression were noted and anxiety decreased substantially.

Brian Carpenter Brian Carpenter

“The major finding is that both patients and their families feel relief, not increased anxiety, upon learning the diagnosis,” says study co-author John C. Morris, M.D., the Harvey A. and Dorismae Hacker Friedman Distinguished Professor of Neurology and director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.

“Nobody wants to hear the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, but even that is preferable to recognizing there’s a problem and not knowing what it is. At least having the diagnosis allows people to make plans for the future, including treatment as appropriate.”

One reason an Alzheimer’s diagnosis can be comforting to both family members and patients, suggests Carpenter, is that it provides an explanation for what’s been going on with the patient.

Caregivers, he notes, are often quick to attribute symptoms of dementia to the person, rather than the disease, and patients wonder if they are going “crazy.” ...


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