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One in four people with dementia ‘suffer symptoms for two years before diagnosis’

A new poll has found worryingly long waits for dementia diagnoses (PA)
A new poll has found worryingly long waits for dementia diagnoses (PA)

One in four people with dementia experience symptoms for more than two years before they are diagnosed, according to new research.

A study for the Alzheimer’s Society suggests signs of dementia are too often dismissed by families or individuals as simply old age.

The charity has produced a new checklist with the Royal College of GPs to help people identify symptoms of dementia and seek help in getting diagnosed.

It includes ticking whether people suffer memory problems, such as struggling to find the right words or repeating questions and phrases; issues with daily living such as struggling to pay bills or getting lost; and behavioural or emotional problems such as becoming aggressive, withdrawn, acting inappropriately or walking about.

The charity’s poll of 1,019 dementia sufferers and their carers found that confusing dementia symptoms with getting old (42%) was the number one reason it took people so long to get a diagnosis.

Some 26% of all people took more than two years to get a diagnosis, with over a quarter of these only receiving one, or seeking one, once they had reached crisis point.

The Alzheimer’s Society has launched a new campaign – “It’s not called getting old, it’s called getting ill” – to encourage people worried about their memory or that of their loved ones to seek support.

Kate Lee, chief executive of Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Asking the same question over and over again is not called getting old, it’s called getting ill.

“If you’re worried for yourself or someone you love, take the first step this Dementia Action Week – come to Alzheimer’s Society for support.

“The stark findings of our survey released today show just how dangerous it can be to battle dementia symptoms alone and put off getting help.

“Yes, getting a diagnosis can be daunting – I know I was terrified when my mum got diagnosed.

“But it is worth it – over nine in 10 people with dementia told us they benefited from getting a diagnosis. It gave them crucial access to treatment, care and support, and precious time to plan for the future.

“With the pandemic causing diagnosis rates to plunge, it’s more important than ever to seek help. You don’t have to face dementia alone, we’re here to support everyone affected.”

Dr Jill Rasmussen, the clinical representative for dementia at the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: “It’s vital for patients, their families and GPs that conversations with the potential for a diagnosis of dementia are timely and effective.

“The new checklist developed with Alzheimer’s Society is a simple, free tool to help patients and their families clearly communicate their symptoms and concerns during an often time-pressured appointment.

“This resource could make a real difference in identifying those people who require referral for a more detailed evaluation and diagnosis of their problems.

“We’re asking anyone who is worried about possible dementia symptoms to use the checklist and share it with their primary care team.”