Arizona doctors work to shed stigma of Alzheimer’s disease, speed up diagnoses

Mar 13, 2017, 8:20 PM | Updated: Mar 16, 2017, 9:33 am




LISTEN: Arizona doctors work to shed stigma of Alzheimer’s disease

This is the second of a five-part, weeklong series studying how Alzheimer’s disease can affect you, no matter your age. Read the other parts here

PHOENIX – Nearly every minute in this country someone is hearing the words: “You have Alzheimer’s disease.”

The disease is so prevalent that experts who are on the frontlines of finding a cure fear it could become a trillion-dollar monster by the year 2050 if it is not stopped within the next decade.

But doctors say that can easily be done from our own homes, simply by identifying and reporting the disease in our own family circles.

Just as we do with newborns, Dr. Maribeth Gallagher with Hospice of The Valley said individuals should take elderly family members into their doctor for regular wellness visits.

“So much emphasis is on youth, that as we move towards the dying process, we don’t even have conversations with it, do we?” she asked. “How many conversations about death do we have without somebody laughing and saying, ‘You’re bringing me down.’”

It’s that mindset, she noted, that prevents millions of Americans with mild to full-blown dementia from receiving proper medical care in a timely manner.

At Banner Health Alzheimer’s Institute, geriatric psychiatrist Anna Burke helps hundreds of Arizona patients with dementia.

Burke said of the patients they treat, “statistics tell us we only diagnose about 20 to 30 percent of all (dementia) cases in general.”

Of those who finally get a proper Alzheimer’s diagnoses, she said, “only about seven percent will actually [receive] appropriate treatment.”

And, in many misdiagnosed cases, that meant the patient was likely taking medication that could be harmful for their memory, she said.

Both Burke and Gallagher said they suspect a number of reasons for the lack of reporting and poor diagnosis.

“People are walking around maybe feeling embarrassed or stigmatized,” Gallagher said. “When if they went to the right clinician they could find a way to remedy the situation or get the good support.”

But doctors, including Drs. Edward Zamrini and Pierre Tariot at Banner Alzheimer’s Institute, believe that getting a better understanding of what causes Alzheimer’s may help reduce the stigma.

Zamrini and Tariot said there are not one, but two different types of Alzheimer’s disease: The “genetic” kind and the “sporadic” kind.

The genetic kind is “transmitted from generation to generation to generation in people who have specific genetic abnormalities” and is fatal, Zamrini said. But it only accounts for less than five percent of all Alzheimer’s cases.

The remaining 95 percent of Alzheimer’s cases typically deal with the sporadic kind, which carries a different gene variation, often referred to as alleles.

If the allele shows up in the gene coding with a specific type of protein, Tariot explained, “it raises the risk of having Sporadic Alzheimer’s disease. Not a 100 percent, but to a spectacularly high level.”

Tariot said knowing this fact “is a very powerful tool for identifying people who are at risk and, therefore, might benefit from early intervention.”

If you have Alzheimer’s in your family history, whether it was a direct parent, a grandparent or another relative, and there are subtle signs of forgetfulness, Gallagher encourages people to shed the stigma and seek help.

Fortunately, living in Arizona, we have a strong network of Alzheimer’s experts who are waiting to help the patient, the caregivers and the families cope and better understand the disease.

KTAR News’ Kathy Cline contributed to this report. 

More Alzheimer’s disease resources:

Arizona Alzheimer’s Consortium

The Banner Alzheimer’s Institute

Barrow Neurologica Institute

Translational Genomics Research Institute

University of Arizona Health Sciences Alzheimer’s Research

Arizona State University Bio Design Institute

Hospice of the Valley

Duet Partners In Health and Aging

The Alzheimer’s Association

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

Arizona News

A man was arrested for arson after a fire broke out early Saturday at Grand Canyon National Park on...

21-year-old Arizona man arrested on arson, DUI charges at Grand Canyon National Park

A man was arrested for arson after a fire broke out at Grand Canyon National Park last week, authorities said.

6 hours ago

A one-year-old boy is in critical condition after nearly drowning in Scottsdale. (Pexels photo)...

1-year-old in serious condition after nearly drowning in Scottsdale pool

A one-year-old boy is in serious condition after he was pulled from a pool in Scottsdale on Friday, the Scottsdale Fire Department said.

6 hours ago

Colorado River settlement center of new Navajo Nation push...

Associated Press

Tribes say their future is at stake as they push for Congress to consider Colorado River settlement

Navajo officials are celebrating the signing of legislation outlining a proposed Colorado River settlement that would ensure water rights.

8 hours ago

Man indicted for organized retail theft, allegedly stole 31 times...

Serena O'Sullivan

Phoenix man accused of stealing from same retail store 31 times

A Phoenix man allegedly stole goods worth $7,000 from a single store over two years. He's been indicted for organized retail theft.

10 hours ago

The OFFSTREET Fesitval Arts & Crafts Show will return to Prescott, Ariz. for Memorial Day weekend. ...

Damon Allred

OFFSTREET Festival Arts & Crafts Show returns to Prescott for Memorial Day weekend

The OFFSTREET Festival Arts & Crafts Show is returning to Pine Ridge Marketplace in Prescott for a cultural showcase over the weekend.

11 hours ago

Two coyotes were euthanized following their capture in Scottsdale on Wednesday, May 22, 2024, after...

2 coyotes euthanized after man walking his dog attacked in Scottsdale

Two coyotes were euthanized following their capture in Scottsdale on Wednesday after a man walking his dog was attacked.

12 hours ago

Sponsored Articles


Sanderson Ford

3 new rides for 3 new road trips in Arizona

It's time for the Sanderson Ford Memorial Day sale with the Mighty Fine 69 Anniversary, as Sanderson Ford turned 69 years old in May.


Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Beat the heat, ensure your AC unit is summer-ready

With temperatures starting to rise across the Valley, now is a great time to be sure your AC unit is ready to withstand the sweltering summer heat.


DISC Desert Institute for Spine Care

Sciatica pain is treatable but surgery may be required

Sciatica pain is one of the most common ailments a person can face, and if not taken seriously, it could become one of the most harmful.

Arizona doctors work to shed stigma of Alzheimer’s disease, speed up diagnoses