Telling the truth to Alzheimer and dementia patients in the early stages of the disease.

Sara Ilan, Shimon Glick, Alan Bruce Jotkowitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Disclosing the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease to the patient is emotionally difficult and ethically challenging. Arguments against telling the truth include: diagnostic uncertainty, patient's inability to understand the diagnosis, patient's unwillingness to recognize the diagnosis, potential negative social implications, unpredictable emotional reactions and losing hope. Arguments in favor of truth telling include: patient autonomy, relations with the physician based on trust, emotional adaptation, future planning and support for the patients and their family. Current research in Western countries indicates that most patients of all ages wish to know their diagnosis, whereas many relatives and physicians believe that they should conceal it from the patient. Many physicians experience difficulties in delivering the diagnosis to the patient. Studies show that less than half of them reveal the diagnosis to the patient and rarely discuss the prognosis, even though they convey this information to the relatives. Patients' reactions to the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease is influenced by the way it is delivered, the patients' emotional vulnerability, coping style and past experience with dementia. Reactions vary from denial, anger, fear, sorrow and depression to positive coping. The proper question is how to disclose the diagnosis and not whether it should be told. Disclosing the diagnosis is a complicated and dynamic process that should begin when there is suspicion of a cognitive decline. It demands physician sensitivity flexibility and discretion. Discussing the diagnosis in time enables the patient to be involved in treatment decisions and planning his or her future.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)537-540, 555
JournalHarefuah
Volume151
Issue number9
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (all)

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