Objective: A consensus conference on the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer disease (AD) and related disorders was organized by the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry, the Alzheimer's Association, and the American Geriatrics Society on January 4 and 5, 1997. The target audience was primary care physicians, and the following questions were addressed: (1) How prevalent is AD and what are its risk factors? What is its impact on society? (2) What are the different forms of dementia and how can they be recognized? (3) What constitutes safe and effective treatment for AD? What are the indications and contraindications for specific treatments? (4) What management strategies are available to the primary care practitioner? (5) What are the available medical specialty and community resources? (6) What are the important policy issues and how can policymakers improve access to care for dementia patients? (7) What are the most promising questions for future research?
Participants: Consensus panel members and expert presenters were drawn from psychiatry, neurology, geriatrics, primary care, psychology, nursing, social work, occupational therapy, epidemiology, and public health and policy.
Evidence: The expert presenters summarized data from the world scientific literature on the questions posed to the panel.
Consensus process: The panelists listened to the experts' presentations, reviewed their background papers, and then provided responses to the questions based on these materials. The panel chairs prepared the initial drafts of the consensus statement, and these drafts were read by all panelists and edited until consensus was reached.
Conclusions: Alzheimer disease is the most common disorder causing cognitive decline in old age and exacts a substantial cost on society. Although the diagnosis of AD is often missed or delayed, it is primarily one of inclusion, not exclusion, and usually can be made using standardized clinical criteria. Most cases can be diagnosed and managed in primary care settings, yet some patients with atypical presentations, severe impairment, or complex comorbidity benefit from specialist referral. Alzheimer disease is progressive and irreversible, but pharmacologic therapies for cognitive impairment and nonpharmacologic and pharmacologic treatments for the behavioral problems associated with dementia can enhance quality of life. Psychotherapeutic intervention with family members is often indicated, as nearly half of all caregivers become depressed. Health care delivery to these patients is fragmented and inadequate, and changes in disease management models are adding stresses to the system. New approaches are needed to ensure patients' access to essential resources, and future research should aim to improve diagnostic and therapeutic effectiveness.