Why early diagnosis is vital for people with dementia

Looking back, Samantha Bushnell believes there had been signs of dementia in her husband for at least 18 months, possibly two years, before they mentioned it.

“It had nothing to do with memory,” says Samantha, 47, a human resources adviser who lives in Oxfordshire. “Edward stopped being able to use the sat nav. At one point he started handing me the remote when we were watching TV, saying I was better off with it. He opened the fridge door and couldn’t find something right in front of him.

It was on vacation in Gran Canaria, on the occasion of Edward’s 60th birthday, that the alarm bells rang the loudest. He couldn’t find his way around the hotel’s breakfast buffet. It was December 2018 and a month later Samantha told him she was worried. Edward collapsed. “I really knew,” he said. “Deep down, I knew.”

Edward saw his GP and used his private medical coverage for a quick referral to a consultant neurologist. “Until then, I clung to the hope that it was stress or anxiety,” says Samantha. The consultant established cognitive tests. In one, he had Edward draw a circle, then add the 12, three, six, and nine for a clock, then add the hands. “He couldn’t do it,” Samantha said. “It was so upsetting to see.” Later, a CT scan revealed a narrowing at the back of Edward’s brain. Within three months, he was diagnosed with a form of dementia called posterior cortical atrophy (PCA). “Dementia was something I had always feared,” says Edward, now 63. “I was devastated.”

Last month, the Alzheimer’s Society lobbied to improve dementia diagnosis rates in the UK. Research suggests that one in four people with dementia wait two years to see a doctor, and one in three are never diagnosed. “People can be scared, or they often mistake their symptoms for signs of aging,” says Tim Beanland, the company’s knowledge management manager.

“The national objective is to have a diagnosis rate of 67%. If it was the target of cancer or heart disease, there would be an outcry.