Alzheimer's Diagnosis Ignorance: Bliss or Dangerous?

For our parents and other loved ones, or even for ourselves, diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is on the rise.

Your doctor might know that you have Alzheimer’s disease, but he isn’t required to let you know. The Alzheimer’s Association recently reported that only around 45% of patients or their caregivers are directly informed of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis by their doctor. Medical ethics dictates honesty in reporting a diagnosis, but there is no legal requirement for a doctor to report the Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

This isn’t the first case of this type of secrecy. In the 1950s and 60s, doctors would sometimes withhold cancer diagnoses because, in their opinion, there was no effective treatment, and the word “cancer” was taboo.

This concept relates directly to the issue at hand. Stigmas against Alzheimer’s disease cause a variety of troubles for those living with it. Their tendency toward emotional abnormalities as the disease progresses leads doctors to avoid sharing this diagnosis for fear of depression or mood shifts as a result, when in actuality, having a name and cause for their difficulties has a positive impact on the diagnosed, studies show.

In addition, with a disease that progresses and could eventually be fatal, it is crucial for the diagnosed to begin to plan for the future now, but doctors often report that they will disclose such a diagnosis only when it becomes more advanced. This denies the one suffering knowledge of the disease’s potential damage and time to arrange for care and services related to their diagnosis.

Alzheimer’s, just like cancer, is a progressive and deadly disease, yet it is treated differently by many doctors and providers. This must change as the rate of diagnosis is expected to triple in coming decades.