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The View of Dementia That Helps People Experiencing It Feel More Positive

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New research examines whether the diagnostic label of ‘dementia’ really helps people.

People who see symptoms of dementia as a normal part of getting older feel more positive, a new study finds.

The research looked at 64 people who had recently been diagnosed with mild to moderate dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

They were having problems concentrating, with memory loss as well as difficulty carrying out everyday tasks.

Those who saw these problems as an ‘illness’ reported lower mood than those who saw it as a part of the process of ageing.

Researchers analysed people in the study on the basis of three groups or ‘clusters’, as they explain:

“‘Illness’ cluster participants saw themselves as living with an illness and used diagnostic labels, ‘ageing’ cluster participants did not use diagnostic labels and viewed their difficulties as related to ageing, and ‘no problem’ cluster participants considered that they did not have any difficulties.

‘Illness’ cluster participants had better cognition and better awareness, but lower mood, and perceived more practical consequences, than ‘ageing’ cluster participants.

Holding an ‘illness’ model may not be advantageous.”

Around two-thirds of those diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s did not see themselves as ill.

Instead they thought of their symptoms as being part of the ageing process.

Professor Linda Clare, who led the study, said:

“There’s a big emphasis on earlier diagnosis of dementia, but our evidence raises the crucial question of the extent to which giving a diagnostic label really benefits people.

Some people do want their difficulties acknowledged with a diagnosis, but our research shows that many others understand what is happening to them as part of a normal process of ageing.

For this group, we may be better targeting support and information based on their symptoms or the type of everyday difficulties they are having, rather than focusing on giving a diagnostic label.

This is a relatively small study and we must now conduct further work to confirm this to ensure we are providing the best support in this crucial area of health diagnosis, which has enormous implications for how people adjust and cope with these changes in later life.”

The study was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease (Clare et al., 2016).

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