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CHICAGO, Oct 14, 2004 (United Press International via COMTEX) -- Three geriatricians are calling for the U.S. healthcare system to recognize dementia as a terminal illness and treat it accordingly.
In a study by the trio from the University of Chicago, the doctors say an estimated 500,000 people with Alzheimer's or related diseases died annually and many receive inadequate pain control and are subjected to ineffective and invasive therapies such as tube feedings.
"Our health care system is oriented toward treatment of acute illness but dementia produces a long, slow, unpredictable decline" said Greg Sachs, professor of medicine, section chief of geriatrics at the university and first author of the study.
The report said the first hurdle is the unwillingness of physicians and families to think of dementia as a terminal illness.
The second is the inability of physicians to predict the time of death. Medicare and most insurance plans offer hospice benefits only to patients with a life expectancy of six months or less, but the median survival for patients with dementia is several years.
Their study is one of four related works in the October, 2004, issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
Copyright 2004 by United Press International.