Trend shows patients with early-stage Alzheimer's disease aren't being treated

Doctor says patients often don't continue taking medications in early stages

HOUSTON – Alzheimer's specialists around the world are noticing an alarming trend: Patients with early-stage disease aren't being treated.

They're not taking provided medications and not getting early diagnosis. In fact, they could be making a bad situation worse down the road.

A lot of friends don't even realize Bob Rosenfield, 87, has Alzheimer's. He was diagnosed seven years ago. His wife, Susan Rosenfield, makes sure he takes his medicine every day because they've made a big difference.

"I don't think Bob would be able to make his breakfast or lunch or help with dinner, or work at the computer or go to a movie and talk about it," Susan Rosenfield said.

"I can't race like I used to, but I can do a lot," Bob Rosenfield said.

Dr. Gary Small, a geriatric psychiatrist, said patients often don't continue taking medications in early stages because they don't always see immediate improvement.

"Many studies have shown that they help patients stay at a higher level of functioning longer," Small said. "They don't cure the disease, but they do have an impact on people's lives."

He also said people avoid getting memory loss checked for fear of an Alzheimer's diagnosis. The decision delays them from taking drugs that slow the symptoms down.

"It's going to be easier to protect a healthy brain rather than trying to repair damage once it becomes extensive," Small said.

Susan Rosenfield said she sees other patients who didn't take medication living in nursing homes, unable to remember their children's names. She's adamant that Bob Rosenfield takes his meds and lives a healthy, active lifestyle.

"I think if you don't take it, you pay a penalty. You're giving away quality of life," Susan Rosenfield said.

Both Small and the Rosenfields agree that medication alone isn't enough. It needs to be part of a comprehensive plan that includes eating a healthful diet, exercise, social interaction and activities that stimulate the brain. Bob Rosenfield goes to a memory-care class to help keep him sharp.