The number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer's has declined during the coronavirus pandemic, figures show.
Only 63.5 percent of those over 65 who were believed to have the cruel memory-robbery disease were classified as affected in June.
By comparison, NHS data shows the rate was 67.6 percent in February when Covid-19 began to spread in the UK.
Charities today called the decline in diagnosis rates "alarming". The Alzheimer's Society said "another hidden crisis is growing".
Millions of Britons chose to stay indoors during the outbreak, too fearful to leave their homes for medical treatment.
As a result, patients may not be diagnosed with diseases, such as dementia, that could promote their progression.
Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia and starts with minor memory problems, such as forgetting what was said in a conversation.
Families who see fewer elderly relatives during lockdown may have missed important symptoms.
Alzheimer's diagnoses have fallen to an alarming 63.5 percent during the pandemic, as millions have stayed home
General practitioners keep records of all diagnosed dementia patients in their practice, which are incorporated into monthly statistics published by NHS Digital.
The "dementia diagnosis rate" indicates how many people aged 65 and over are diagnosed with the disease compared to the estimated number of people affected.
It remains relatively stable at all times – when people with a diagnosis die, the void is filled by people who have been newly diagnosed.
The rate of dementia diagnoses has been falling since February when Covid-19 started spreading in the UK.
An estimated 426,525 people in England had registered a diagnosis of dementia in June, 63.5 percent of the estimated people had the disease.
The rates are currently the lowest in the South West (59 percent) and the highest in London (67 percent).
By comparison, the number of people in February was 455,476 – when 67.6 percent had a diagnosis, a difference of 28,951 people.
NHS Digital does not provide an explanation as to why the rate of diagnosis has decreased.
But it could be that people with dementia died during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Covid-19 pandemic struck a disproportionately large number of elderly people and people with dementia, pierced nursing homes and killed thousands.
However, the Alzheimer's Society believes the rate would have also decreased because fewer people are diagnosed.
Unless the flow of family doctor appointments picks up again, the rate of diagnosis is unlikely to increase.
NHS data also shows that as of April, only 84 general practitioner referrals were made to memory clinics after seeing a patient.
In a typical month, 2,600 referrals are made for patients reported for memory problems or referred by a relative.
However, the move to digital GP services during the crisis may have made appointments less accessible to this group of people.
Effective to end routine in-person appointments with doctors, Matt Hancock said on July 30 that "there is no compelling clinical reason" that people should not go to a hospital or general practitioner office.
The Minister of Health's comments sparked backlash from patient groups and charities, largely because they run the risk of leaving out older people.
Charity Age UK warned many elderly people who 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" for patients with dementia is mounting as ministers focus their concerns on the possibility of a second wave of Covid-19.
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 that a large group of people will live without an official diagnosis and unable to understand financially, legally and emotionally Problem solving advice as well as any assistance or treatment available.
“This is especially alarming when we know that the lockdown has caused people's symptoms of dementia to become more severe.
"Our recent survey found that half of people with dementia lost increased memory loss and lost over a quarter of daily skills such as cooking or dressing."
She added, "We urgently need a clear government plan on how services can re-prioritize routine checkups, combat growing waiting lists for storage services, and ensure people feel safe accessing the health services they deserve."
"A lack of official diagnosis and the associated support could worsen the condition of people with dementia, which in turn could lead to unnecessary hospital stays."
"People with dementia are hardest hit by the coronavirus, and without action they could face a major health crisis later."
There are an estimated 850,000 people in the UK with dementia, of whom up to 75 percent are Alzheimer's.
HOW TO RECOGNIZE ALZHEIMER
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 to 70 percent of dementia cases.
The majority of people with Alzheimer's are 65 years of age and older.
More than five million Americans suffer from Alzheimer's.
It is not known what causes Alzheimer's. Those who have the APOE gene are more likely to develop late-onset Alzheimer's disease.
Signs and Symptoms:
- Difficulty remembering newly learned information
- Changes in mood and behavior
- Suspicion of family, friends, and professional caregivers
- More severe memory loss
- Difficulty speaking, swallowing, and walking
- Mild Alzheimer's Disease (Early Stage) – A person may be able to function independently but has memory lapses
- Moderate Alzheimer's Disease (intermediate stage) – Usually in the longest stage, the person may become confused, frustrated, angry, or have sudden behavior changes
- Severe Alzheimer's Disease (Late Stage) – In the terminal stages, people lose the ability to react to their surroundings, have a conversation, and eventually control movement
There's no known cure for Alzheimer's, but experts recommend physical activity, social interaction, and adding brain-boosting omega-3 fats to your diet to prevent or slow the onset of symptoms.
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