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Many People with Dementia do not get Screened, Study Reports

Update Date: Nov 26, 2014 04:13 PM EST

Preventive methods, which include annual screenings, can save lives. In a new study, researchers examined the screening rate for people suffering from dementia and discovered that the majority of these people never see a doctor for mental health issues.

"These results suggest that approximately 1.8 million Americans over the age of 70 with dementia have never had an evaluation of their cognitive abilities," said study author Vikas Kotagal, MD, MS, of the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor. "Yet early evaluation and identification of people with dementia may help them receive care earlier."

The study, which was a part of the Health and Retirement Study, involved 845 participants who were aged 70 or older. All of the participants were assessed for signs of dementia. Each participant's family members or close friends were questioned regarding whether or not the participant had sought out medical care for memory problems.

Overall, 297 participants could be diagnosed with dementia. Out of this group, 45 percent had gone to a doctor's office for their memory problems. In the group of participants that had memory and thinking problems but did not meet the criteria for dementia, only five percent went to see a doctor. One percent of the people who had normal memory and thinking skills saw a doctor.

Factors that affected screening rates included marital status, race, socioeconomic status, number of offspring, and proximity of adult children's home to the participant's home.

"It's possible that spouses feel more comfortable than children raising concerns with their spouse or a health care provider," said Kotagal reported in the press release. "Another possibility could be that unmarried elderly people may be more reluctant to share their concerns with their doctor if they are worried about the impact it could have on their independence."

He added, "Our results show that the number and proximity of children is no substitute for having a spouse as a caregiver when it comes to seeking medical care for memory problems for a loved one."

The study was published in the American Academy of Neurology journal, Neurology.

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