Older Adults with Reading Problems Often Misdiagnosed with Dementia, including Alzheimer’s

Older Adults with Reading Problems Often Misdiagnosed with Dementia, including Alzheimer’s

A new study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease reports that older adults with a history of reading problems perform similarly on some neuro-psychological tests to those exhibiting signs of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) associated with early Alzheimer’s disease. In other words, professionals could mis-diagnose people as having dementia when all they really have is a reading problem.

Researchers at Stony Brook University in collaboration with Boston University School of Medicine emphasize the need for professionals to take into account developmental history and have a broad understanding of neuro-psychological testing when interpreting the meaning of low memory test scores.

Lead author Brian K Lebowitz, PhD and colleagues assessed the relationship between MCI classification and suspected reading disorder in 1804 community living adults (mean age, 62 years) in the Framingham Heart Study from 1999 to 2005. Individuals with previous dementia, stroke and other neurological disorders were excluded from the study.

Because memory complaints are extremely common in older adults, a lot of weight is placed on memory test scores when assessing the clinical significance of a patient’s memory concerns. However, memory tests are often administered alone, without a comprehensive battery tests that include testing for reading ability, and without a clear understanding of a patient’s lifelong pattern of cognitive strengths and weaknesses.

KEY FINDING – Dr Lebowitz said. “It could mean that a reading or learning disorder history may increase the misdiagnosis of neuro-degenerative disease, including Alzheimer’s disease. Alternatively, a reading disorder may represent a risk factor for the development of Alzheimer’s disease in later life.”