National Opinions

Doctors need better training to diagnose Alzheimer’s early

Therapist Nicole Johnson connects an iPod for Gloria Silcott to listen at Eskaton in Sacramento last month as part of a study using music to calm patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
Therapist Nicole Johnson connects an iPod for Gloria Silcott to listen at Eskaton in Sacramento last month as part of a study using music to calm patients with Alzheimer’s disease. jvillegas@sacbee.com

As a neurologist with the UCSF Memory and Aging Center, I have dedicated my professional career to helping patients and families cope with the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s disease. Early diagnosis is the single most effective step to help patients, but more than half of all people living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias have not been diagnosed.

Our state is failing to equip physicians and caregivers with the medical knowledge and resources to diagnose the disease early and help patients and families chart an effective management plan.

State legislators can take a major step to improve physician education in the budget that will be finalized this week. The Alzheimer’s Association, doctors and patient advocacy organizations are supporting a one-time, $2.5 million investment in California’s Alzheimer’s Disease Centers.

These centers are housed at UC San Francisco, UC Davis, UC San Diego, UC Irvine, UCLA, USC and Stanford, and provide Alzheimer’s diagnostic and treatment services as well as training for health professionals and families.

The allocation would fund collaborative research among the universities, and an education and outreach program to doctors, community clinics, medical groups, health plans and other health professionals using medical school instruction, continuing and community education and free online resources.

We cannot afford not to invest in better diagnosis.

Today an estimated 610,000 Californians – 11 percent of all seniors – are living with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia. It is the state’s fifth-leading cause of death. As California’s population ages, it is projected that 840,000 individuals will have the disease by 2025, a 42 percent increase in a decade.

The state’s Medi-Cal costs of caring for people with Alzheimer’s disease will exceed $3.3 billion this year and will grow by nearly $1.7 billion over the next decade.

Early and accurate diagnosis leads to better disease management, patient outcomes and improved quality of life. It also can lower state and patient costs through an orderly plan for care, rather than one filled with crisis, frequent hospital visits and unanticipated expenses.

Alzheimer’s can be a cruel disease. While there is yet no cure, early diagnosis and disease management can help ease the burden on patients, their families and the state budget. We urge our lawmakers to support this reasonable budget allocation.

Bruce L. Miller is a professor of neurology at UC San Francisco, and directs the UCSF dementia center. Email: Bruce.Miller@ucsf.edu. He wrote this for the Sacramento Bee.

  Comments