How the GP can support a person with dementia

GPs and GP practice staff (including practice nurses) have an important role in supporting people with dementia and their carers.

It is important that people with dementia and carers have regular check-ups with their own doctor (at least once a year). They should see them as soon as possible if they have any concerns about their health. This page looks at the different kinds of support available from a GP for a person with dementia. It also explains how they and their carer can access them.

When to see the GP

A person with dementia should see their GP for a review at least once a year. They should also contact their GP practice as soon as they feel unwell or have concerns about their health. They should also see their doctor if they suddenly become more confused or agitated, or if there are any worrying changes in their behaviour, as this could be a sign that they are ill. Many physical conditions, including chest and urinary tract infections (UTIs), infected leg ulcers, and constipation, can lead to the person feeling more confused and distressed. These conditions can usually be treated.

Other reasons for seeing the GP include if the person feels anxious or restless, or unhappy for a long period of time. Similarly, contact the doctor if there have been changes in their sleeping or eating patterns, or if they become very withdrawn. Any of these can be a sign of depression, which is common during the early stages of dementia. The GP may consider prescribing antidepressant medication, counselling or other forms of support.

For more information see our page: Depression and anxiety.

Some GP practices may be quite busy and it may take time to arrange an appointment. However, it is important to see the GP in these situations.

If at any time the person with dementia or their carer feels that a specialist opinion is needed, they can ask the GP for a referral. The GP is usually the only person who can refer someone on to a specialist. Everyone who sees a GP is entitled to request a second opinion, and can do so even if the GP doesn't see the need.

The person may find it easier or prefer to speak on the phone with the GP. A carer could also write to the GP to list their concerns.

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