A new study from Johns Hopkins University researchers suggests that delayed dementia diagnosis can increase the risk of unsafe activities.

In particular, the study revealed that people with signs of dementia but no formal diagnosis are twice as likely to participate in potentially unsafe activities than those who are diagnosed. Potentially dangerous activities include driving, cooking and managing medication and finances.

"When patients receive a formal dementia diagnosis, their families are typically aware that, at some point, their loved ones will not be able to drive or will need more help with their medicine," said Halima Amjad of Johns Hopkins University and lead author of the study. "But when people are undiagnosed, families and friends may ignore or be unaware of functional problems that already exist."

Amjad and her team examined data from more than 7,600 volunteers aged 65 and older from across the nation. They then determined those with likely dementia with no diagnosis using data from cognitive tests and interviews and separated them from those with formally diagnosed dementia, possible dementia and no dementia.

After creating the groups, the team asked each of them questions regarding potentially unsafe activities such as driving, preparing hot meals and falling.

The results revealed that those with both undiagnosed and diagnosed dementia were less likely to engage in potentially unsafe activities than those with possible or no dementia.

"Either the patients themselves or their family members are self-regulating and doing these activities less frequently as their disease is progressing," Amjad said.

However, the data also revealed that those with undiagnosed dementia were much more likely to take part in unsafe activities than those with formally diagnosed dementia. For example, almost 28 percent of those with undiagnosed dementia were driving, compared to just 17 percent of those with diagnosed dementia.

Amjad hopes that the findings will encourage elderly patients and their family members to ensure dementia screenings for patients that are having difficulty with potentially dangerous activities.

"Families are really the front line in recognizing when someone shouldn't be driving or needs more help with managing medicine," she said.

The findings were published in the June 2 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.