Dementia 'not being diagnosed'

9 Jul 2012 02:00 PM

Fewer than half of people with dementia ever receive a formal diagnosis, according to a new parliamentary report.

Around 800,000 people in the country currently have dementia, with numbers expected to rise to more than a million by 2021.

Early diagnosis of dementia can help both individuals with the condition and their families, by giving people access to treatment and support services, and by providing them with help in planning for their future.

However, a report published last week by the All Parliamentary Group on Dementia has found a "shocking" variation in the number of people with dementia who are diagnosed.

In England, just 41% of people receive a diagnosis, and in parts of Wales diagnostic rates are as low as 32%.

Quoting evidence from GPs and specialists, the report says that some people are having to wait more than a year to get assessed in a memory clinic - an area where dementia specialists perform assessments for diagnosis.

The NICE pathway on dementia says that memory assessment services, provided by a memory assessment clinic or community health teams, should be the single point of referral for people with dementia.

It recommends that staff in primary care should consider referring people showing signs of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) for assessment by memory assessment services.

These services can help determine whether a person has signs of dementia, so allowing them to plan their care at an early stage.

If MCI is identified, the memory assessment services should offer follow-up to monitor cognitive decline and other signs of possible dementia, which will also help in planning care.

Among the report's recommendations are calls for public health directors to make early diagnosis a priority; more training for health and social care professionals to identify and understand dementia, and for the provision of information to support people with dementia in accordance with NICE's quality standard.

Jeremy Hughes Chief Executive of the Alzheimer's Society, said: "What we are hearing today is that many people are being let down by services that are meant to be helping them get a timely dementia diagnosis.

"Now we need MPs to get in contact with local health services and GPs to help us find out exactly what is happening at a local level across the UK and to collect the data we need which is vital for pushing forward change.

"Through compulsory accreditation and investment in improving memory services we can help drive up rates of diagnosis and enable people with dementia to access the support they need."

With NHS spending on dementia currently around £23 billion per year, the report also suggests that early diagnosis could save resources, as it could delay admission to hospital and to care homes.

Mr Hughes adds: "By ensuring people have the support they need at the time they need it we can also save money, as fewer people will need costly and distressing crisis care."

A range of implementation tools are available to support NICE's recommendations on dementia, including a guide for commissioners on memory assessment services.