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Early dementia symptoms 'ignored' for six months by patients


More than half of people affected by dementia have said they waited six months or more after first noticing symptoms of the condition before seeking professional help, according to a survey.

Research carried out with 1,043 people showed 41% said they had kept concerns about dementia “bottled up”, mainly because they feared upsetting the person affected or they did not want to face the reality of the condition.

“Thousands of people remain in denial about the condition”

Jeremey Hughes

The study for the Alzheimer’s Society, carried out on Facebook and online, showed 54% had waited for six months or more after first noticing symptoms of dementia in themselves or someone close to them before seeking professional help.

The charity said an estimated 52% of the 800,000 people living with dementia in the UK are yet to receive a diagnosis. The high numbers who are failing to talk about the condition has added to these difficulties, the charity said.

A separate online survey of 2,358 British adults found dementia is the condition people are most reluctant to seek help for, compared to other health issues including serious heart and digestive problems.

The YouGov poll also found 57% of adults who have had a health problem in the past year have put off seeking help about it, nearly half of them because they thought they would be “making a fuss”.

One in five, or 23%, of those who had put off seeking help said it was because they feared it was a serious health problem, such as dementia.

The findings have been released to coincide with Dementia Awareness Week.

Jeremy Hughes, Alzheimer’s Society chief executive, said: “One in three people over the age of 65 will develop dementia, so it is worrying that so many people would feel reluctant to seek help about it. The fact remains that thousands of people remain in denial about the condition.

Jeremy Hughes

Jeremy Hughes

“Talking about dementia can be difficult and we all bury our heads in the sand from time to time, but the sooner you know what you are dealing with, the sooner you can feel in control again and get on with your life.”

The survey findings come after musicians Chris Martin, Lily Allen and Alesha Dixon joined stars from the worlds of sport, comedy and television to highlight dementia in a new advert aimed at encouraging people to become “dementia friends”.

Other celebrities involved in the ad include comedian Simon Pegg, actor Ray Winstone, footballer Leighton Baines and presenter Paul O’Grady.

Author Sir Terry Pratchett, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease himself, is also involved.



Readers' comments (4)

  • I am a part time carer for a elderly relative and now qualified EEN.

    My relative believed she had early stage dementia symptoms and I concurred by suggesting she raise it with her GP.

    She attended her GP and raised her concerns which her GP who failed to take them seriously actually started laughing at her for thinking it.

    She returned home upset with no explanation for her symptoms and became quite agitated. So I offerred to a mini MSE thinking her GP clinical assessment was more than was portrayed to me and it would come up with a reasonably expected result thus allaying her fears.

    After completing the exam exactly to the guidelines I calculated a result in the lowest range which was a surprise to me.

    At the time I was a student but had passed my compency for this both in the lab and on clinical placement.

    I wrote a letter to her GP telling her what I had done and the result and asked her reconsider her clinical judgement.

    The GP then performed the same test and apparently she scored 30/30 in the office which she reported to me on a small note and told my relative that I should not be using her as a guinea pig.

    I thought it was possible that she would score differently than when I performed the test but not so vastly different and not a perfect score taking into account my relative has a past Hx of CVA and multiple TIA's.

    This prompted me to ask my relative if the GP conducted the test the same as me which she replied "No she gave more time, as long as I wanted and gave me hints and even let change my answers after telling me my first answer was wrong". I do not know the acuracy of this statement but it would explain the different results.

    My relative health beliefs have now been altered by this GP and despite increased cognitive decline which she acknowledges believes this is a normal part of aging. I acknowledge that I am not qualified nor able to diagnose dementia or anything else that could be causing the cognitive decline (depression, TIA etc.) but my teachings regarding older clients and textbooks say this is not a normal part of aging which her GP has made her believe.

    My point in sharing this story is to point out that in the early symptom stage it seems diagnosis can be ambigious even when clients are prepared to seek help and if at this stage they recieve a dismisal they may then be less likely to seek help when severity symptoms increases.

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  • I think it is outrageous that any healthcare professional should laugh at a patient who has taken the courageous step to voice their concerns about the possibility of having dementia. It's hard enough to try to overcome the stigma associated with dementia, without inappropriate behaviour from healthcare professionals.

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  • Anonymous | 20-May-2014 6:17 pm

    ...and put people off voicing their concerns.

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  • Yes I find it extremely disappointing and have difficulty respecting this GP now but my relative has had this GP for 20 years and will not change despite me finding her a great GP that she likes.

    She feels a doctors with 20 years of knowledge of her health is better placed to treat her which under normal circumstances I see the merit in the health professional having good knowledge of past Hx.

    I find that a lot of elderly clients take their doctors word as gospel and feel subordinate and inferior to the doctors great knowledge and this forms a barrier to good health outcomes.

    Also a lot of GPs are failing to educate their clients or influence health beliefs positively which with lifestyle diseases becomes really problematic.

    If we are to remove stigma that is associated with Dementia we need educate and the message need to be consistent across the whole healthcare industry.

    I also discovered when I was a student that understanding of the full role of a nurse in the community is lacking especially in the elderly who often see us as task orientated robots performing tasks dictated by doctors. Many times I have been accused of trying to be a doctor when discussing lifestyle choice and the impact on disease.

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