Britons ignore early signs of Alzheimer’s disease and put off seeing a doctor longer than their European neighbors, according to poll responses released on Wednesday.
Germans wait about 10 months from the start of symptoms such as memory problems or disorientation until they seek advice and are diagnosed with the degenerative brain disease.
It takes about 14 months in Italy, slightly longer in Spain and up to two years in France. But in Britain many people are not diagnosed until about 32 months after the first signs.
“Traditional British stoicism is a public health problem in terms of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr David Wilkinson, a psychiatrist at the Moorgreen Hospital in Southampton, southern England.
Britons seem to be more reluctant than their European neighbors to make a fuss about symptoms and to seek help.
“Older people feel their symptoms are not a legitimate medical need,” said Wilkinson, who was commenting on the poll that was released at a medical meeting in Rome.
“We have got to get the message across that this is a common problem in the elderly - but it is not part of normal aging.”
An estimated 12 million people worldwide suffer from Alzheimer’s, which is the leading cause of dementia in the elderly.
There is no cure for a condition that robs people of their memory and mental ability but drugs have been approved to alleviate symptoms.
The survey, conducted by the global research agency Millward Brown, included 2,550 interviews with doctors, spouses, caregivers and patients.
In Britain, 72 percent of caregivers said fear about Alzheimer’s was the main reason people delayed seeing their doctors.
Elizabeth Rimmer, executive director of Alzheimer’s Disease International, encouraged elderly people who may be experiencing signs of the illness to seek help.
“Throughout the world dementia is surrounded by stigma and myth which prevents people from coming forward if they are concerned about the early symptoms, which are often ignored or just attributed to aging,” Rimmer added in a statement.
Revision date: July 6, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD