About 28 million of the 36 million people living with various types of dementia, including Alzheimer's, are not diagnosed. Without early intervention, many of these people are missing the benefit of early treatment.
According to a new report, most people don't get diagnosed until the disease is well advanced and difficult to treat.
"Failure to diagnose Alzheimer's in a timely manner represents a tragic missed opportunity to improve the quality of life for millions of people," said Dr. Daisy Acosta, chairman of Alzheimer's Disease International, a patient advocacy group which sponsored the study.
Treatment for dementia costs an estimated $604 billion annually. When the number of patients with dementia triples in 2050, the costs will be astronomical.
The advocacy group is pushing for all countries to make a stronger stand for early diagnosis and intervention to curb the human and financial cost. The disease may be diagnosable up to ten years before symptoms appear.
Not only can early intervention save countries about $10,000 per year per patient, but early diagnosis can get more people into trial treatments for new medications. It can also help countries develop infrastructure and anticipate need years in advance.
"Earlier diagnosis can also transform the design and execution of clinical trials to test new treatments," explained Marc Wortmann, executive director of ADI. Today's drugs have little impact on patients in advanced stages of the disease. "Eighteen months after you start a drug, they are in the same place," Wortmann continued.
"We certainly need to push for more effective disease-modifying treatments that can slow or stop the disease, and at the same time we see the treatment value that can follow from early diagnosis," he concluded.