Alzheimer's Research

Identifying Barriers to Alzheimer’s Diagnosis


Improve early diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease by identifying key indicators exhibited by patients in early stages of the disease.


Discovery Kits with carefully-designed research prompts allowed Worrell researchers to gain powerful insights from Alzheimer’s patients and their families, and revealed actionable opportunities for early diagnosis.

Alzheimer’s disease is believed to affect as many as five million Americans, age 65 and older. In many cases, individuals exhibit early symptoms of the disease for as many as ten years before a definitive diagnosis is made. A delayed diagnosis not only reduces a physician’s ability to slow the disease process, but also makes the job of family members and caregivers who manage the patient’s ongoing care more difficult.

Diagnosing Alzheimer’s is a very complicated and personal experience for everyone involved, and traditional methods for identifying the disease are not always effective. Knowing that many clues for early diagnosis were yet to be uncovered, teams from Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson went in search of new behavioral methods for identifying, and ultimately treating, early stage Alzheimer’s.

Conventional methods had failed to identify the key triggers for an early diagnosis. Worrell researchers designed a revolutionary study to glean insights that helped identify early indicators easily recognized by potential patients and their families.

The study consisted of an exhaustive ethnographic study involving 30 participants close to patients already diagnosed with Alzheimer’s (spouses, children, parents, friends, co-workers, clergy members, etc.) Discovery Kits, which included carefully designed research prompts and video journaling exercises, were shared with participants. These Kits allowed the team to gain first-person insights into the depths of participants’ experiences with the patient.

The Kits provided a foundation for trust and confidence among the participants; some later told researchers that they found them to be “fun” and “therapeutic.” Mapping everything backwards through journal entries and other activities revealed a consistent timeline of events and tangible opportunities for early intervention that could be used in the diagnosis and treatment of other Alzheimer’s patients.


Results of this research were incorporated into the development of Pfizer’s Bapineuzumab drug trial. Though the drug failed to reverse the biological effects of the disease, the insights gained from Worrell’s research activities became a powerful tool to help simplify the complexities of early disease detection.