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In Seattle WA, Screening for Dementia Cuts Health Costs for Elderly

Screening for Dementia Cuts Health Costs for Elderly in Study

Patients diagnosed with dementia through screening ran up 13 percent less in health costs in the first year of treatment than before, according to a study suggesting wider detection could reduce U.S. medical expenses.

The one-year cost for 345 patients who were screened, found to have dementia and treated at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs clinics with specially trained nurses fell to $11,636 each on average, from $13,378 in the 12 months before diagnosis, said J. Riley McCarten, the lead researcher.

Patients with Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia and the seventh-leading cause of death in the U.S., are becoming more numerous and cost three times as much to treat as elderly patients without the disease.

While screening for Alzheimer’s runs about $800 a person, it may more than pay for itself, as people diagnosed with the malady may be less likely to be treated for other illnesses, researchers said.

“Our study showed reduced costs in the short run, but we also anticipate that screening would save money in the long-run as well, since we would no longer sink costs into aggressive treatments for other conditions during end-of-life treatment when the patients already have an invariably terminal disease,” McCarten, a University of Minnesota physician, said in an interview yesterday.

The median decrease was 29 percent, according to a statement released today in Honolulu at the International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease.

That number reflects the savings for the study patient in the middle of the cost curve in the group whose treatment included the services of nurses trained in dementia, according to the statement.

Early Diagnosis

The difficulties of diagnosing Alzheimer’s patients have been widely discussed at this year’s conference, and new guidelines have been proposed to help address the challenges.

Despite such hurdles, for patients whose dementia is properly diagnosed, health care may become more efficient, McCarten said in the interview.

That’s because they can receive chronic care such as phone checkups with nurses, he said. Before diagnosis, patients may be “lurching from crisis to crisis,” undergoing tests and treatment for many possible maladies, after coming to the hospital repeatedly with vague complaints, he said.

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