Study: Alzheimer’s Disease Second Most Feared Health Condition

A recent international survey from the Harvard School of Public Health revealed both widespread awareness and anxiety about Alzheimer’s disease in the United States and Europe.

More than 85 percent of subjects in the five countries surveyed said that they would prefer to know earlier rather than later if they had Alzheimer’s diesease. Alzheimer’s disease was found to be the second most feared health condition after cancer in four of the five countries surveyed.

The study also found that more than 85 percent of surveyed adults were able to identify common symptoms of the disease, such as confusion and getting lost.

Alzheimer's disease is a condition characterized by progressive neurodegeneration and loss of brain functions, such as memory and language skills.

Besides shedding light on the widespread fear of developing Alzheimer’s, the results also highlighted two prevalent misconceptions about the disease.

Across the five countries, 27 to 63 percent of respondents said they believed there is treatment that can slow the progression of the disease, and 38 to 59 percent said they believed there is a definitive test to determine if a patient was suffering from the disease. Both of these statements are inaccurate.

“Many of the public have high expectations about the possibilities of treatment alternatives and medical testing,” said co-author and School of Public Health Professor Robert J. Blendon in a press release. “It is important for doctors to talk to patients about what treatment and testing options are or are not available.”

In addition, almost 40 percent of Americans and more than 50 percent of Europeans surveyed were unaware that Alzheimer’s disease is a fatal condition.

Still, the vast majority of respondents indicated that they supported increased government funding for Alzheimer’s research and would immediately contact doctors if they or family members exhibited telltale symptoms of the disease.

Co-authored by Blendon, School of Public Health researcher John M. Benson, and colleagues at Alzheimer Europe, the study included telephone interviews with 2,678 adults from the United States, Spain, France, Germany, and Poland.

The researchers presented the results of their survey last Wednesday in Paris at the Alzheimer Association’s International Conference, a six-day event where scientists from around the world gathered to discuss the disease.

—Staff writer Leanna B. Ehrlich can be reached at lehrlich@college.harvard.edu.

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