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Can J Neurol Sci. 2001 Feb;28 Suppl 1:S67-71.

Disclosing a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease: patient and family experiences.

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Department of Sociology, McGill University, Montreal QC, Canada.



Informing patients and families about the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a complex ethical and practical issue. This qualitative study explores the psychosocial impact of disclosing a diagnosis of AD on patients and family members.


This study identified 14 patients and their accompanying family members undergoing a multidisciplinary assessment for dementia at an outpatient clinic for AD and related disorders. Of the group, three patients had probable AD and five had possible AD as per NINCDS-ADRDA criteria. Six patients were not demented as per DSM IIIR criteria. Disclosure of diagnosis occurred, in a family conference, within six to eight weeks of the assessment. Data collection methods included observation of the assessment and the family conference as well as in-depth home interviews with family members and with each patient whenever feasible. The interviews were transcribed verbatim and coded for recurrent themes.


A total of 40 individuals across 14 families participated in this study. Only two families chose not to have the patient attend the family conference. The disclosure of a diagnosis of probable AD brought on an experience of relief in three families, marking the end of a lengthy period of confusion about the nature of memory problems. Patients diagnosed with possible AD and their families interpreted how indicative the diagnosis was of the presence of the disease with varying degrees of certainty depending on pre-assessment beliefs about the cause of memory problems. In the group diagnosed as not demented, four patients had complaints of forgetfulness likely related to minor depression. The disclosure of a diagnosis of no dementia did not produce the anticipated relief. Two patients continued to believe their memory problems were caused by the early onset of AD or some other "organic" problem.


This study reveals that disclosure of the diagnosis of AD to patients and family members is generally beneficial but that there are variations in the understanding of the diagnostic information, particularly in instances where the assessment results are ambiguous.

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