Data from GP visits could be used to predict dementia risk

Woman visiting her GP

Published 21 January 2016

New research published in BMC Medicine suggests that information routinely gathered by GPs could be used to assess the risk of developing dementia.

Researchers at UCL used anonymised data from almost 1 million patient records to calculate an individual’s likelihood of developing dementia over the next five years.

The Dementia Risk Score (DRS) is a composite of several factors contained within medical records: history of depression, stroke, alcohol intake, diabetes, irregular heart rate, weight loss, smoking and high blood pressure. Other known dementia risk factors such as physical activity and education were not included as they are not normally assessed during a visit to the doctor.

The DRS was tested in a separate set of patient records and was able to predict people aged 60-79 who are at very low risk of developing dementia over the next five years, with 85% accuracy. It was not as good at predicting those at high risk of dementia, or the risk for those aged over 80.

Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at Alzheimer’s Society said:

'The Dementia Risk Score was fairly accurate at identifying people aged 60-79 who are at very low risk of developing dementia in the next five years. But for every 10 people classed as low risk with this method, at least one person could still go on to develop dementia. This level of uncertainty reduces the likelihood that the score will be used widely by doctors.

'The fact that this test uses routine information gathered during a GP consultation is certainly advantageous, but before it is recommended for use in clinics it would need to be backed-up by further research. We would also need to carefully consider the ethical implications of disclosing a person’s risk score and how this information could affect the care they receive.

'Dementia is now the most feared condition for people aged over 55, and there are still many widely-held misconceptions about the risk factors. Alzheimer’s Society is working with Public Health England and other organisations to raise awareness and promote brain health.'

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