No dementia diagnosis required

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Photo: Source: Shutterstock.

An Australian senior clinical psychologist for aged persons has questioned whether diagnosing a person aged in their 80s and 90s with Alzheimer’s disease overestimates what that person can and cannot do.

Dr David Spektor claims the diagnosis of dementia in people in this age group may serve no productive purpose.

“We bring fear to millions by telling them they have a disease; everyone's brain ages and in different ways. We risk turning a normal process into a disease,” he explained.

Dr Spektor spoke to DPS News before attending the Risky Business conference in Sydney last week where he shared his claims which have reportedly concerned the nation’s peak dementia organisation, Alzheimer’s Australia.

“The conference is about risky business and risky ideas. My main ambition is to stimulate debate, but I admit, I may be completely wrong with my theory,” he confesses.

“I hope to achieve the main message which is ‘care before cure’ idea. We need to make sure we don’t focus too much on curing this problem and therefore all our research money will be limited.”

Dr Spektor asks: “Is it fair to give people who are 85 years old a diagnosis of a disease without recognising a lot of others do suffer with memory loss?

“I think it’s important to ask these people to choose if they’d like to call it dementia or a part of the ageing process. We should at least have a conversation about it rather than accepting one idea.”

According to Dr Spektor, his idea of abandoning dementia diagnoses follows six years of working in aged mental health and seeing the impact of diagnoses.

“We need to start asking what do these people want; how do they want to frame their own diagnosis and what is beneficial for them. I question whether you need a diagnosis to receive support.”

Dr Spektor tells DPS News mainstream media misquoted his ideas and refutes statements claiming he believes memory loss is a “normal part of ageing”.

“It’s not a normal part of ageing. But we need to start thinking about what is beneficial about having that diagnosis. It should be the patient’s choice,” he says.

Glenn Rees, chief executive of Alzheimer’s Australia, says Dr Spektor’s comments surrounding a diagnosis in people aged in their 80s and 90s is as concerning as suggesting that people aged in their 80s and 90s should not be diagnosed with cancer or heart disease.

“Dementia is not a normal part of ageing, it is a degenerative disease. Everyone, regardless of their age, has a right to know if they have a serious medical condition,” Mr Rees said.

“A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease can go a long way to providing individuals with access to support and serves as a way to educate their family as to why the person with dementia may be acting in a certain way.

“Without a diagnosis, people often spend traumatic years knowing something is wrong but not knowing what it is.

“The comments made today by Dr Spektor are distressing, not only for Alzheimer’s Australia, but also for the thousands of people living with Alzheimer’s disease around the country.”

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