Disclosure of the diagnosis of dementia

Alzheimers Dement. 2007 Oct;3(4):404-10. doi: 10.1016/j.jalz.2007.07.008. Epub 2007 Sep 19.


Most ethical guidelines strongly promote disclosure of a diagnosis of dementia to the affected individual, based on the principle of autonomy. Nevertheless, codes of medical ethics allow for various interpretations of this issue and surveys of clinical practice illustrate that such disclosure is by no means the rule. We argue that diagnostic disclosure for persons with dementia must be considered a process that begins when cognitive impairment is first suspected and that evolves over time as information is obtained. Whenever possible and appropriate, this process should involve not only the affected individual but also their family and/or other current or potential future care providers. Once a diagnosis is established it should be disclosed in a manner consistent with the expressed wishes of the patient, using an individualized patient-centered approach that maintains the individual's personal integrity. Diagnostic disclosure of dementia is a process that may require additional time as well as follow-up or referral to other specialists. We recommend that a progressive disclosure process be employed to address issues including: remaining diagnostic uncertainty, treatment options, future plans, financial planning, assigning power of attorney, wills and "living wills", driving privileges and the need for eventual driving cessation, available support services, and potential research participation. The potential for adverse psychological consequences to diagnostic disclosure must be assessed and these should be addressed through education and support of the patient and their family/caregivers throughout the diagnostic disclosure process. At present, few data are available regarding patients' perspectives on the diagnostic disclosure process and its consequences. This limitation and the apparent discrepancies in physician and caregiver opinions about the disclosure process, make it incumbent upon health care professionals to evaluate the diagnostic disclosure process within their practice.