Are diagnoses of dementia being delayed by over-complex referral criteria?

Complex and time-consuming memory clinic referral criteria may be contributing to delays in the diagnosis of dementia, according to a paper published today by the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. Around 850,000 people are living with dementia in the UK but the number thought to have dementia substantially exceeds those with a formal diagnosis. Early diagnosis is a priority for the government and the NHS.

Currently GPs are responsible for referring patients for assessment and diagnosis by specialists, usually in dedicated memory clinics which set referral criteria. There is considerable variation in referral criteria, with requirements set by some memory clinics that exceed national guidelines. Requirements can include different combinations of cognitive tests, laboratory blood tests, urine tests and physical examination that vary between clinics.

Lead author Dr Benedict Hayhoe, of the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, says: “GPs have difficulty assessing patients with memory problems in strict accordance with guidance within a 10-minute consultation; in our experience a significant proportion of available consultation time can be taken up by carrying out just one of the brief cognitive tests.” He went on to suggest that, with current workload pressures on primary care, complex criteria involving multiple investigations are likely to provide a significant disincentive for referral.

The authors set out alternative approaches to speed up diagnosis. Dr Hayhoe said: “A primary care led process, perhaps staffed by practice nurses carrying out assessments according to protocols, may speed up diagnosis while reducing pressure on GPs and specialists.” He added that it may also be appropriate to allow some people with memory concerns direct access to memory clinics.

Dr Hayhoe concludes: “A system that discourages or delays referral for dementia is highly counterproductive; an urgent review of this area is necessary to establish a system that effectively supports patients and clinicians in early diagnosis, treatment and prevention“.

The article was reported by a number of media outlets including: The TimesThe ExpressThe Alzheimer’s SocietyPulse and the Jersey Evening Post. The article was also reported by World Firsthomecare.co.ukCare Appointments, and the Hippocratic Post.

Improving the safety of care of people with dementia in the community

Dementia care is predominantly provided by carers in home settings. We aimed to identify the priorities for homecare safety of people with dementia according to dementia health and social care professionals using a novel priority-setting method. The study was published in BMC Geriatrics.

The project steering group determined the scope, the context and the criteria for prioritization. We then invited 185 North-West London clinicians via an open-ended questionnaire to identify three main problems and solutions relating to homecare safety of people with dementia. 76 clinicians submitted their suggestions which were thematically synthesized into a composite list of 27 distinct problems and 30 solutions. A group of 49 clinicians arbitrarily selected from the initial cohort ranked the composite list of suggestions using predetermined criteria.

Inadequate education of carers of people with dementia (both family and professional) is seen as a key problem that needs addressing in addition to challenges of self-neglect, social isolation, medication non-adherence. Seven out of top 10 problems related to patients and/or carers signalling clearly where help and support are needed. The top ranked solutions focused on involvement and education of family carers, their supervision and continuing support. Several suggestions highlighted a need for improvement of recruitment, oversight and working conditions of professional carers and for different home safety-proofing strategies.

Clinicians identified a range of suggestions for improving homecare safety of people with dementia. Better equipping carers was seen as fundamental for ensuring homecare safety. Many of the identified suggestions are highly challenging and not easily changeable, yet there are also many that are feasible, affordable and could contribute to substantial improvements to dementia homecare safety.

DOI: 10.1186/s12877-017-0415-6