Science and Tech


Not enough patients disclose cognitive issues to doctors

Disclosing memory and cognitive loss might help treat the early onset of Alzheimer's disease, experts say.
A brain scan of an Alzheimer's patient is shown.
Posted at 2:42 PM, Mar 20, 2023

A report issued by the Alzheimer’s Association found that many older Americans are not being upfront with their physicians about cognitive issues. 

The 2023 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report said 4 in 10 Americans would tell their doctor right away if they had early memory or cognitive loss. The same report found that 7 in 10 Americans would want to know early if they have Alzheimer’s disease to allow early treatment. 

Although there isn’t a cure for the disease, the Alzheimer’s Association says early detection can help with treatment. “Providing the best possible care for Alzheimer’s disease requires conversations about memory at the earliest point of concern and a knowledgeable, accessible care team that includes physician specialists to diagnose, monitor disease progression and treat when appropriate,” said Maria C. Carrillo, chief science officer for the Alzheimer’s Association. “For the first time in nearly two decades, there is a class of treatments emerging to treat early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. It’s more important than ever for individuals to act quickly if they have memory concerns or experience symptoms.”

An illustration depicts cells in an Alzheimer’s affected brain

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The report indicated that many Americans are concerned about an incorrect diagnosis. The report noted that many primary care physicians learn that their patient may have Alzheimer’s through a family member. 

“Both physicians and patients need to make discussions about cognition a routine part of interactions,” said Nicole Purcell, a neurologist and senior director of clinical practice with the Alzheimer’s Association. “These new treatments treat mild cognitive impairment or early-stage Alzheimer’s disease with confirmation of amyloid, so it’s really important that conversations between patients and doctors happen early or as soon as symptoms occur, while treatment is still possible and offers the greatest benefit.”

An estimated 6.7 million Americans currently have Alzheimer’s disease — a figure expected to double by 2050.

The report recommends that primary care physicians have an informal conversation with patients to search for cues of cognitive loss. 

“Short appointment times can make it difficult to notice subtle changes in a patient's thinking over time, so many PCPs suggested a consistent, standardized process to begin visits would help overcome barriers to initiating conversations independently,” the Alzheimer’s Association report said.