Alzheimer's diagnoses suffer 'alarming' drop in lockdown

Charity warns of an ‘alarming’ drop in number of over-65s getting diagnosed with dementia and says ‘another hidden crisis is growing’

  • 29,000 fewer people in England were listed in June compared to February
  • Charities who called the findings ‘alarming’ said a ‘hidden crisis is growing’
  • The NHS data also shows a significant drop in referrals from GPs  

The number of people being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s has dropped during the coronavirus pandemic, figures show.

Just 63.5 per cent of over-65s thought to have the cruel memory-robbing disease were listed as being a sufferer in June.

In comparison, NHS data shows the rate was 67.6 per cent in February, when Covid-19 started to spread in Britain. 

Charities today called the drop in diagnosis rates ‘alarming’, with the Alzheimer’s Society saying ‘another hidden crisis is growing’.

Millions of Britons opted to stay indoors during the outbreak, too scared to leave their home even for medical treatment. 

As a result, patients may not be getting diagnosed with diseases like dementia, which could fuel their progression.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and starts with minor memory problems, like forgetting what was said in a conversation.

But with families seeing less of older loved ones during lockdown, key symptoms may have been missed.  

Alzheimer’s diagnoses have dropped to an ‘alarming’ 63.5 per cent during the pandemic as millions have stayed at home 

GPs keep a record of everyone diagnosed dementia patient at their practice, which feeds into monthly statistics released by NHS Digital.

The ‘dementia diagnosis rate’ is how many people aged 65 and over are diagnosed with the disease, compared to the estimated number of sufferers.

It stays relatively stable at all times — as people with a diagnosis die, the gap is filled by people who are newly diagnosed.  

There has been a dip in dementia diagnosis rates since February — when Covid-19 started to spread in Britain.

An estimated 426,525 people in England had a recorded dementia diagnosis in June, 63.5 per cent of those estimated to have the disease.

Rates are currently the lowest in the South West (59 per cent), and highest in London (67 per cent).

In comparison, the number of people was 455,476 in February — when 67.6 per cent had a diagnosis, a difference of 28,951 people.

NHS Digital does not offer an explanation for why the diagnosis rate has gone down.

But it could be because people with dementia have died during the Covid-19 pandemic.   

The Covid-19 pandemic has disproportionately the elderly and dementia sufferers, ripping through care homes and killing thousands.

But the Alzheimer’s Society believe the rate would have also gone down because people are being diagnosed less. 

Unless the flow of GP appointments picks back up again, the diagnosis rate is not likely to increase.  

NHS data also shows just 84 referrals were made to memory clinics by GPs in April after they saw a patient.

In a typical month, 2,600 referrals are made for patients that have come forward, or been brought in by a relative, for memory problems. 

But the switch to digital GP services during the crisis may have made appointments less accessible to this group of people.  

Matt Hancock is keen to end routine face to face appointments with doctors, saying on July 30 that ‘unless there was a compelling clinical reason’, there was no need for people to go to a hospital or GP surgery.

The Health Secretary’s comments led to a backlash from patient groups and charities, primarily because they risk leaving out the elderly.

Charity Age UK warned many older people have struggled to access NHS help online during the pandemic, especially those with poor internet or hearing problems.

Today the Alzheimer’s Society said a ‘hidden crisis is growing’ for patients with dementia while ministers focus their concerns on the possibility of a second Covid-19 wave.

Fiona Carragher, director of research at the leading charity, said: ‘The recent sharp drop in both dementia diagnosis rates and referrals to memory clinics means a huge group of people will be living without an official diagnosis, unable to get financial, legal and emotional advice, as well as any support or treatment available. 

‘This is particularly alarming when we know lockdown has led to people’s dementia symptoms becoming more severe.

‘Our recent survey showed half of people with dementia reported increased memory loss and over a quarter losing daily skills like cooking or dressing.’

She added: ‘We urgently need a clear plan from the Government for how services can reprioritise routine screenings, combatting growing waiting lists for memory services and making sure people feel safe to access health services they are entitled to. 

‘A lack of official diagnosis and the support that brings could lead to deterioration in people with dementia’s condition, in turn risking unnecessary hospitalisation. 

‘People with dementia have been hit hardest by coronavirus and without action, they could face a huge health crisis further down the line.’

There are an estimated 850,000 people with dementia in the UK, of which up to 75 per cent are Alzheimer’s patients.        

HOW TO DETECT ALZHEIMER’S

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory, thinking skills and the ability to perform simple tasks.

It is the cause of 60 percent to 70 percent of cases of dementia.

The majority of people with Alzheimer’s are age 65 and older.

More than five million Americans have Alzheimer’s.

It is unknown what causes Alzheimer’s. Those who have the APOE gene are more likely to develop late-onset Alzheimer’s.

 Signs and symptoms:

  • Difficulty remembering newly learned information
  • Disorientation
  • Mood and behavioral changes
  • Suspicion about family, friends and professional caregivers
  • More serious memory loss
  • Difficulty with speaking, swallowing and walking

Stages of Alzheimer’s:

  • Mild Alzheimer’s (early-stage) – A person may be able to function independently but is having memory lapses
  • Moderate Alzheimer’s (middle-stage) – Typically the longest stage, the person may confuse words, get frustrated or angry, or have sudden behavioral changes
  • Severe Alzheimer’s disease (late-stage) – In the final stage, individuals lose the ability to respond to their environment, carry on a conversation and, eventually, control movement

There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s, but experts suggest physical exercise, social interaction and adding brain boosting omega-3 fats to your diet to prevent or slowdown the onset of symptoms.

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