One in three of us will develop dementia. That’s 209,600 people this year. But among these there will be thousands who aren’t getting the timely diagnosis they need to unlock treatment and support, who instead will stay stuck on waiting lists for memory assessments, or be misdiagnosed with another condition.
At the Alzheimer’s Society Annual Conference this year I chaired a panel on ‘Getting Diagnosis Right, Now and in the Future’, and while we talked about a whole raft of barriers to overcome, I left hopeful that we can come together as healthcare professionals to improve the dementia diagnosis experience. As a practising GP I know first-hand how crucial primary care professionals are in this mix.
The Alzheimer’s Society’s recent survey of Primary Care healthcare professionals showed that community nurses feel that they play a key role in initial assessments of people showing dementia symptoms, yet just 50% were confident spotting early signs and symptoms of dementia. Upskilling and professional development around dementia is vital so nurses can feel empowered and informed.
Early onset Alzheimer’s cases, and rarer types of dementia can prove a particular challenge to identify, and can slip through the net. Listening to families is so important – they are the experts in how symptoms are presenting in their loved ones.
This is where organisations like Alzheimer’s Society can step in, offering practical advice and emotional support, with dementia advisors just a phone call away, and available seven days a week. In many areas across the UK, dementia advisors also provide one to one and face to face support.
As we look to the future – and at potential new Alzheimer’s drugs like donanemab and lecanemab coming down the road – we need to make sure as many people as possible can get a timely, accurate diagnosis so they have a chance of accessing these, and future breakthrough drugs for other dementias. Blood tests hold a lot of promise once implemented effectively, but we still need to improve access to more conclusive tests, and scans will remain an important element of the diagnosis pathway.
To improve diagnosis both here and now, and in the future, I have worked alongside dementia experts to agree a Diagnosis Consensus Statement. In it we call for better funded and evidence-based dementia pathways that remove barriers to getting accurate, timely diagnoses for everyone, regardless of their type of dementia. Without this the door to vital treatment and support will stay shut for thousands of people with dementia.
To check your patient’s symptoms, use Alzheimer’s Society’s Royal College of General Practitioners accredited symptom checklist at www.alzheimers.org.uk/memoryloss
Professor Dame Louise Robinson, GP and Professor of Primary Care and Ageing, Newcastle University