National health care access restrictions delay Alzheimer's disease diagnosis, treatment

NEW YORK (8 July 2002) -- Some 80 percent of patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD), a highly under-recognized disorder, remained undiagnosed after presenting symptoms to their general practitioner (GP) or family physician, according to results from a new multi-country survey of AD caregivers. The survey revealed that, on average, one year elapses from when disease symptoms are first noticed to when a diagnosis is made, delaying access to earlier treatment that could slow the progression of patients' disease and ease caregivers' burden.

Illustrating the central role that GPs play within national health care systems, the survey also found that the majority (73 percent) of caregivers first brought their relatives with AD to a GP, in contrast to only 15 percent who said their relative first saw a neurologist. This was especially true in the United Kingdom, Australia and France, where 90, 88 and 78 percent, respectively, first saw a GP.

Further, of the caregivers surveyed whose relative initially visited a GP, only 19 percent reported receiving an AD diagnosis, and of those, only 42 percent were recommended a medication by this physician. In contrast, of caregivers whose relative initially visited a specialist, 67 percent received an AD diagnosis, 77 percent of whom were recommended a medication by a specialist. One reason for this may be that access to AD care is restricted by many national health care systems. For example, in the United Kingdom, only specialists are permitted to diagnose and initiate treatment for AD to allow access to the medication through the National Health Service.* However, even though specialists were considered the most knowledgeable about this disease state, 39 percent of respondents whose relative was treated by a specialist felt that specialists were not easily accessible.

"Playing a primary role in Alzheimer's disease diagnosis and treatment, general practitioners need to recognize the symptoms of the disease

Contact: Mara Mazza
Porter Novelli

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