GPs are failing to diagnose patients with early dementia

DALLAS: GPs are failing to diagnose patients with early dementia despite a major Government drive to improve detection rates, research shows today.

Experts say there is a reluctance amongst doctors to tell patients they have the disease as ‘nothing can be done.’

Other GPs are thought to be sending patients away telling them their symptoms are nothing to worry about, and a normal part of growing old.

But the findings by University College London academics are particularly worrying as ministers are trying improve early diagnosis rates as part of a key strategy to make dementia a ‘national priority.’

Launched under David Cameron in 2012, the Dementia Challenge aims to detect the illness as promptly as possible to enable patients to be offered drugs to slow the progression.

The Government has also doubled its research funding to £66 million a year in the hope of finding a cure for dementia by 2025.

In the first study of its kind, researchers assessed whether encouraging patients to see their GP with early symptoms improved diagnosis rates.

They looked at 14,558 patients at 22 GP surgeries based in North and East London, Hertfordshire and Essex.

Half of practices sent leaflets and personal letters to all patients over 70 urging them to see their GP if they had any confusion or forgetfulness.

Surprisingly although this resulted in many more patients booking appointments, it did not improve GPs’ diagnosis rates.

Researchers believe that many of these patients were sent away by doctors who either dismissed their symptoms or believed a diagnosis was pointless.

Professor Gill Livingstone, the psychiatrist who led the study, said she was surprised at how many families were struggling to get a diagnosis.

There are an estimated 850,000 adults in the UK living with dementia but as many as one third have never been diagnosed.

This is expected to rise to one million adults by 2025 and two million by 2050, with the increase driven by the aging population.

Professor Livingstone – whose study is published in the journal PLOS Medicine – said: ‘What I suspect is going on is that patients were coming forward at an earlier stage but GPs didn’t change their practise.

‘We think there are three different reasons.

‘There are some GPs – only a minority – who think that if dementia isn’t curable then its not worth knowing about. But diabetes can’t be cured, yet we don’t stop treating it. Others think patients don’t want to be told they have dementia. But an early diagnosis has so many benefits.’…

Full story covered in the Dementia Business Weekly.