Well-Being Longevity

Rural Americans with early-onset Alzheimer’s less likely to see a specialist

“If you’re able to diagnose it early enough, the patients and the family members can prepare, make financial arrangements, plan important events and seek the support they need, which can improve the quality of life for all involved.”
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Story at a glance


  • Ohio State University researchers found rural patients with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, which occurs between the ages of 30 and 65, were typically seen exclusively by a primary care physician.

  • Researchers noted that patients with early-onset Alzheimer’s make up only 6 percent of Alzheimer’s diagnoses.

  • But they said this form of the condition is usually more aggressive and leads to accelerated cognitive decline.

Americans suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s are less likely to receive specialized care if they live in rural parts of the country, a new study found. 

Ohio State University researchers found rural patients with the disease, which occurs between the ages of 30 and 65, were typically seen exclusively by a primary care physician and were less likely to undergo testing that would help doctors manage the condition.    

Researchers noted that patients with early-onset Alzheimer’s make up only 6 percent of Alzheimer’s diagnoses, but they said this form of the condition is usually more aggressive and leads to accelerated cognitive decline. 

“These people are young – in their 50s and early 60s – and many are still the major family caregivers to older family members and children. They’re still working, paying mortgages and living active lives,” lead author Wendy Yi Xu of Ohio State’s College of Public Health said in a media release

“If you’re able to diagnose it early enough, the patients and the family members can prepare, make financial arrangements, plan important events and seek the support they need, which can improve the quality of life for all involved,” Xu said. 

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Xu said testing required to diagnose and provide care for the disease is often unavailable to patients treated exclusively by a primary care provider.  

The team said treatments could also overburden rural health care systems that are already stretched too thin, adding “community health care leaders and policymakers must explore innovative solutions to deliver needed specialty care to early-onset patients,” 

Researchers examined disparities by reviewing health care claims from 8,430 patients who were newly diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s or dementia related to the diagnosis.    

The study was published Aug. 5 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates as many as 5.8 million people were living with Alzheimer’s in 2020.