Almost half of elderly Americans are diagnosed with dementia at the time of their deaths, according to a study published recently by researchers at the University of Michigan.
That finding sheds light on the need for older adults to plan ahead for how they might want to be cared for before actually experiencing cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, and then holding discussions with family members and health care professionals about how best to prepare.
“This shows we have far to go in addressing end-of-life care preferences proactively with those who are recently diagnosed, and their families,” said Julie Bynum, senior author of the study and a professor of geriatric medicine at Michigan Medicine. “Where once the concern may have been under-diagnosis, now we can focus on how we use dementia diagnosis rates in everything from national budget planning to adjusting how Medicare reimburses Medicare Advantage plans.”
The study looked at the bills provided to Medicare covering the last two years of the lives of 3.5 million people over 67 years old who died between 2004 and 2017. It found that a diagnosis of dementia was ascribed to 47% of them — a sharp increase over the 35% whose bills listed dementia in 2004. Yet the researchers attributed that increase to greater awareness of dementia and more precise health records and Medicare billing rather than an actual spike in cases of dementia among the elderly.
Overlapping the study was the issuance in 2012 of the National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease, developed to stem the preponderance of people suffering with Alzheimer’s and to better meet the needs of those with the disease.
Already the researchers discovered that more thoughtful care is given to those with dementia. Almost 63% received some hospice services, compared with only 36% i