A recent study by Dr. Lon White of the Kuakini Medical System in Honolulu found that in fully half of persons who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, brain autopsies showed no evidence of Alzheimer’s, although in some cases there was indication of other forms of dementia. AD too often goes undiagnosed and untreated, but this study suggests that the opposite may also be true–that AD becomes a convenient label to toss on any older person who demonstrates signs of confusion or memory loss. The study noted that the older the patient, the more likely he or she was to be misdiagnosed. One can only wonder how many of those persons were actually suffering from a treatable condition, such as depression, that went unaddressed.
Early and accurate diagnosis of AD and other dementias can lead to treatment that may slow the course of the disease or mitigate its severity, or at the very least improve the overall quality of life within the reality of progressive memory loss. But misdiagnosis can consign a person with a treatable condition to abandonment by medical professionals and stigmatization by society. One can only wish that a few of the dollars being directed to research to “cure” AD might be redirected to training front-line medical professionals in accurate diagnostic techniques and educating them about the resources to which those so diagnosed could be directed.