Complex referral criteria may delay dementia diagnosis

Complex referral processes might be causing delays in the diagnosis of dementia, suggests a new paper published today (Wednesday 09 November) in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

Clinicians, led by Dr Benedict Hayhoe from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, have proposed that GPs have difficulty assessing patients with memory problems within the recommended 10-minute consultation time. They suggest that pressures on primary care, complex referral criteria, and multiple investigations are likely to be a disincentive for GPs to make a referral to a memory clinic.

George McNamara, Head of Policy at Alzheimer’s Society, said:

'While there has been a notable improvement in diagnosis rates, there are still a third of people with dementia who are left in the dark without a formal diagnosis. The condition can be incredibly complex to diagnose, potentially requiring multiple tests and assessments – it would be rare for a diagnosis to be made in one 10 minute visit to the GP. The health system must to be able to respond to this complexity and anything that could cause delays to someone receiving a diagnosis needs to be urgently reviewed.

'Anticipated new treatments for Alzheimer’s are starting to show promise in clinical trials but if these are successful and become available it is likely they would need to be be given during the early stages of the disease to offer the greatest benefit. Without a timely diagnosis, thousands of people with dementia could miss out on potentially life-changing treatments.'

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