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Report: Over 41 million cases of dementia go undiagnosed


Report: Over 41 million cases of dementia go undiagnosed
Serge Gauthier (Internet image)

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• 75 per cent of all dementia cases go undiagnosed across the globe, up to 90 percent in low-middle-income-countries
• Clinician stigma still a major barrier to diagnosis, with 1 in 3 believing nothing can be done
• 90 per cent of clinicians identified additional diagnosis delays due to COVID-19


Barbados Alzheimer’s Association said today that a new report has found that an estimated 41 million cases of dementia globally are undiagnosed.

In a statement to mark World Alzheimer’s Day, the association said that this, combined with new treatments could result in increased demand  for diagnosis, which could overwhelm unprepared healthcare systems and Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) – the global federation for over 100 Alzheimer’s and dementia associations.

McGill University in Montreal, Canada was commissioned to deliver ADI’s annual World Alzheimer Report 2021 ‘Journey through the diagnosis of dementia’, which finds that 75 per cent of 55 million people with dementia are not diagnosed. This figure is as high as 90 per cent in lower-to-middle-income (LMIC) countries.

For the first time in decades, a new drug treatment for Alzheimer’s disease is on the market in the United States, with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) conditionally approving aducanumab for use in early Alzheimer’s patients.

Without a diagnosis, many people living with dementia worldwide may not be able to access new treatments, it said.

Furthermore, blood biomarker testing for dementia diagnosis is expected to be available in the coming years, making diagnosis more accurate.

McGill University Professor Emeritus and World Alzheimer Report author Serge Gauthier says these new diagnostic tools will increase pressure on healthcare systems to provide diagnoses.

“The emergence of quicker, easier, cheaper, less invasive blood biomarker diagnostic tools will combine with emerging drug treatments and the global ageing population to create a tsunami of demand for diagnosis, putting extreme pressure on healthcare systems,” Gauthier said.

“Now that for the first time in decades, an Alzheimer’s drug treatment targeting a key protein involved in the disease process is available in the US and may soon be available in other parts of the world, people will not be able to access them without an accurate diagnosis.”

According to the new World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics, dementia is the seventh leading cause of death. Additionally, stigma is still a major barrier to diagnosis.

Paola Barbarino, ADI CEO, says that “lack of awareness and stigma within healthcare systems is hampering efforts to support people living with dementia”.

“This misinformation in our healthcare systems, along with a lack of trained specialists and readily available diagnosis tools have contributed to alarmingly low diagnosis rates,” says Barbarino.

“We need healthcare systems across the globe to ensure that their national dementia plan includes specialist dementia training and adequate diagnostic equipment.”

“For over 20 years we have been calling on world government to implement national dementia plans, and frankly, progress has been too slow,” Barbarino said.

“Now the tide has turned, and demand is set to skyrocket. Governments must respond now.”

The WHO global action plan on dementia stipulated that half of countries should be diagnosing 50 per cent of the expected number of those living with dementia. However, ADI data suggests that the diagnosis rates in member states could be as low as 25 per cent in HICs and ten per cent in LIMCs.

Furthermore, 90 per cent of clinicians identified additional delays and wait times for providing diagnosis due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Just one in three people with dementia and their caregivers have had in-person access to a clinician throughout the pandemic.

Three in four clinicians ranked the increasing number of people seeking a diagnosis, as global populations age, as a major challenge in the future, followed by people seeking diagnosis due to self-testing.

Barbarino says that this shows that it’s more important than ever for world governments to be planning appropriately for the oncoming dementia diagnosis demand.

“People with dementia have a right to know their diagnosis, so they can know what to do next,” Barbarino said. This is a progressive disease, and figures are growing every year. There is a perfect storm gathering on the horizon and governments all over the world should get to grips with it.” (PR)