Charity warns against an ‘alarming’ decrease in the number of people over 65 who are diagnosed with dementia
The number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s has fallen during the coronavirus pandemic, figures show.
Only 63.5 percent of those over 65 who were thought to have the cruel memory lapses were listed as a sufferer in June.
For comparison, NHS data shows that the rate was 67.6 percent in February, when Covid-19 began to spread in Britain.
Charities called the drop in diagnosis rates “alarming,” while the Alzheimer’s Society said “another hidden crisis is growing.”
Millions of Britons chose to stay in during the outbreak, too scared to leave their home, even for medical treatment.
As a result, patients may not be diagnosed with diseases such as dementia, which could spur their progression.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and starts with minor memory problems, such as forgetting what has been said in a conversation.
But because families see less of older loved ones during locking, the main symptoms may have been overlooked.
Alzheimer’s diagnoses have fallen to an ‘alarming’ 63.5 percent during the pandemic, while millions have stayed at home
General practitioners keep a record of all diagnosed dementia patients in their practice, which are used in monthly statistics released by NHS Digital.
The ‘dementia diagnosis rate’ is how many people over 65 are diagnosed, compared to the estimated number of patients.
It remains relatively stable at all times – when people with a diagnosis die, the gap is filled by people with a new diagnosis.
Since February, when Covid-19 started to spread in Britain, the number of dementia diagnoses has decreased.
An estimated 426,525 people in England had a registered diagnosis of dementia in June, 63.5 percent of those estimated to have the disease.
Rates are currently lowest in the South West (59 percent) and highest in London (67 percent).
By comparison, the number of people was 455,476 in February – when 67.6 percent had a diagnosis, a difference of 28,951.
NHS Digital does not explain why the diagnosis rate has decreased.
But it may be because people with dementia died during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Covid-19 pandemic has a disproportionate number of elderly people and people with dementia, who tear through care homes and kill thousands.
But the Alzheimer’s Society believes the rate would also have gone down because people are less diagnosed.
Unless the flow of GP appointments picks up again, the diagnosis is unlikely to increase.
NHS data also show that only 84 referrals to memory clinics were made by GPs in April after seeing a patient.
In a normal month, 2,600 referrals are made for patients who have reported or who have been brought in by a family member for memory problems.
However, the switch to digital GPs during the crisis may have made appointments less accessible to this group of people.
Matt Hancock would like to end routine personal appointments with doctors, saying on July 30 that “unless there was a compelling clinical reason,” people should not go to a hospital or general practice.
The health secretary’s comments sparked a response from patient groups and charities, especially as they run the risk of omitting the elderly.
Charity Age UK warned that many older people struggled to access NHS online help during the pandemic, especially those with poor internet or hearing problems.
Today, the Alzheimer’s Society said a “hidden crisis is growing” for patients with dementia, as ministers focus their concerns on the possibility of a second Covid-19 wave.
Fiona Carragher, research director at the main charity, said: “The recent sharp decline in both dementia diagnosis rates and referral to memory clinics means that a huge group of people will live without an official diagnosis, unable to become financial, legal and emotional advice, as well as any available support or treatment.
This is especially alarming when we know that lockdown has led to dementia symptoms in people becoming more severe.
“Our recent survey found that half of people with dementia reported more memory loss and lost more than a quarter of everyday skills such as cooking or getting dressed.”
She added, “We urgently need a clear government plan on how services can give routine screenings a new priority, combat growing memory service waiting lists, and make sure people feel safe to access health services where they be entitled to.
“A lack of official diagnosis and the support it brings can lead to worsening of the condition of people with dementia, leading to unnecessary hospitalizations.
“People with dementia are most affected by the coronavirus, and without action they can experience a massive health crisis down the line.”
There are an estimated 850,000 people with dementia in the UK, of which up to 75 percent are Alzheimer’s patients.
HOW TO DETECT ALZHEIMER’S
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory, thinking and the ability to perform simple tasks.
It is the cause of 60 to 70 percent of dementia cases.
The majority of people with Alzheimer’s disease are 65 and older.
More than five million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease.
It is not known what causes Alzheimer’s disease. Those who have the APOE gene are more likely to develop late-onset Alzheimer’s.
Signs and symptoms:
- Difficulty remembering newly learned information
- Mood and behavioral changes
- Suspicion about family, friends and healthcare professionals
- More severe memory loss
- Difficulty speaking, swallowing, and walking
Stages of Alzheimer’s disease:
- Mild Alzheimer’s (early phase) – A person may be able to function independently, but has amnesia
- Moderate Alzheimer’s (middle stage) – Usually it is the longest phase, the person may confuse words, get frustrated or angry or show sudden behavioral changes
- Severe Alzheimer’s Disease (Late Stage) – In the final stage, individuals lose the ability to respond to their environment, engage in conversation, and ultimately control movement
There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but experts suggest exercise, social interaction, and adding brain-boosting omega-3 fats to your diet to prevent or delay the onset of symptoms.