Physicians often have to grapple with the question if their patients are better off knowing their diagnosis of a life-changing disease or should the information be kept from them so what time they have left will be lived as fully as possible. A 2004 review of research found about half of all physicians were reluctant to inform patients of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
Brian Carpenter, PhD, associate professor of psychology in Arts & Sciences, Washington University, wanted to know how physicians could address the question of informing a patient they have Alzheimer’s disease and how the diagnosis impacts patients’ lives. The study consisted of 90 patients and their caregivers. Initially, the patients had gone to the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center for an evaluation. Of the 90 patients, 69% were determined to have Alzheimer’s disease.
After patients were given a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s they and their families were found to have decreased levels of anxiety. Researchers believe one reason a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s could be comforting is that it provides an explanation for what has been going on with the patient.
Carpenter feels that more physicians are informing their patients of a Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis since the 2004 research review because of public awareness about Alzheimer’s.
Early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s allows for early intervention, which helps delay the effects of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Although medications available on the market today can only delay symptoms it does allow for the patient to continue living in their home for 3-6 months before going to a nursing home and that is important to the patient, family, and friends. During this time it also allows for all concerned to prepare for what is coming emotionally and to connect with support services.