Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia, but it's often misdiagnosed. Experts estimate that as many as 20% of patients are misdiagnosed, with symptoms either mistaken for normal aging or diagnosed as an unrelated condition. Since a misdiagnosis can cause a patient to suffer through unnecessary treatments or miss the opportunity for appropriate treatment of their condition, this may form the basis of a medical malpractice claim.
Alzheimer's Disease Mistaken for Normal Aging
Alzheimer's disease is often difficult to diagnose. The condition typically develops gradually, with the earliest symptoms resembling those we associate with the natural aging process. For example:
- Frequently misplacing items
- Trouble with directions and getting lost while traveling on a familiar route
- Trouble performing cognitive tasks that were once easy such as balancing a checkbook or cooking a favorite meal
- Difficulty remembering new information
- Language problems such as forgetting the words for familiar objects
- Loss of interest in activities once previously enjoyed
As the disease progresses, patients may have difficulty reading and writing, trouble sleeping, hallucinations, and the inability to recognize dangerous situations.
Since Alzheimer's disease is most common in people over age 65, older adults are most at risk of having their symptoms mistaken for normal aging.
Alzheimer's Disease Misdiagnosed as Another Medical Condition
In addition to being mistaken for normal aging, Alzheimer's disease can be mistaken for a wide range of unrelated disorders. These include:
- Vascular dementia
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
- Bovine spongiform encephalopathy
- Brain tumor
- Thyroid disease
- Huntington's disease
- Vitamin deficiency
- Side effects of prescription medications
Younger patients and those with no family history of Alzheimer's disease are the most likely to have their condition misdiagnosed as an unrelated disorder.
Reasons for Misdiagnosis
There are three key factors that can help explain why Alzheimer's disease is so frequently misdiagnosed:
- Limited time spent with patient. Since the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease can overlap with so many different medical conditions, it takes time to get a correct diagnosis. However, recent surveys suggest that primary care doctors are now spending about 10-15 minutes with their patients.
- Failure to consider gender differences. Alzheimer's disease is more commonly misdiagnosed in men, who tend to develop the disease at younger ages and have a more aggressive progression of symptoms than women.
- No single way to obtain an accurate diagnosis. The only 100% accurate way to diagnose Alzheimer's disease is with a brain tissue autopsy after death. This means doctors must make an educated assumption based on the patient's behavior and by ruling out other possible conditions.
Misdiagnosis as a Form of Malpractice
It's important to note that obtaining the incorrect diagnosis isn't necessarily malpractice. Doctors are not infallible, and mistakes can be made without having them rise to the level of negligence.
To qualify as malpractice, the doctor's actions must have been inconsistent with what a medical professional in a similar specialty would do to diagnose a patient. Some examples of errors that might constitute malpractice include:
- Neglecting to rule out other causes of the patient's symptoms
- Failing to take a complete medical history
- Failing to conduct lab or imagining tests to aid in diagnosis
- Failing to recognize a history of accidents or incidents that indicate trauma-related dysfunction
Expert testimony from other medical providers plays a crucial role in cases involving an Alzheimer's disease misdiagnosis. If another provider would have performed the same tests and made an incorrect diagnosis, the provider is not negligent. However, if the doctor's actions are inconsistent with the accepted standard of care, there is a valid claim against the doctor, hospital, and/or treatment center.
Protect Your Rights by Seeking Legal Representation
If you believe you have a valid medical malpractice claim related to the misdiagnosis of Alzheimer's disease, it's vital that you contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible. You may be entitled to compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
The experienced legal team at Neblett, Beard & Arsenault is dedicated to assisting Louisiana residents who've suffered harm due to a healthcare provider's negligence in obtaining the malpractice compensation they deserve. Contact us online or call us directly at 318.541.8188 to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.