GPs admit failing to diagnose dementia

'We wish to draw attention to the challenge facing general practice'
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Up to 500 people each day are diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease and other forms of dementia, according to new figures which also predict a 1 per cent rise in incidence of the condition annually for the next 25 years.

A survey of 2,000 carers and 700 GPs also reveals poor diagnosis and management of dementia, with more than three-quarters of doctors admitting poor knowledge of the condition. Sixty per cent of carers said the GP did not carry out a memory test when first seeing a a patient with memory problems or confusion. More than 40 per cent of GPs did not offer any diagnosis. Of those patients subsequently diagnosed with dementia, 13 per cent were originally thought by GPs to have depression while 17 per cent were said to be "suffering the effects of old age".

The Alzheimer's Disease Society which has published the survey to coincide with Alzheimer's Awareness Week, wants to highlight the plight of carers, many of whom are over 70. Sixty per cent reported health problems linked to caring but just over half were receiving regular follow-up from their GPs.

Harry Cayton, executive director of the Alzheimer's Disease Society, said: "We do not wish to apportion blame but to draw attention to the challenge facing general practice if it is to play full role in community care. We want to work with GPs to ensure early diagnosis and effective care management."

He said that each year there were 180,000 new cases of dementia, a figure based on a new study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. This found that annual incidence rates for dementia were 2.3 per cent for people aged 75-79; 4.6 per cent for people aged 80-84 and 8.5 per cent for people aged 85-89 years.

"The Alzheimer's Disease Society has estimated the annual incidence of dementia in the UK at 180,000 using these rates and the population figures in the OPCS Population Trends 78 (Winter 1994)," Mr Cayton said. There are about 650,000 people with dementia in the UK.

The society is calling on the Government to improve GP training and education, and to consider incentives for GPs to carry out health checks on the over 75s.

- Right from the Start: Primary Health Care and Dementia; Alzheimer's Disease Society, Gordon House, 10 Greencoat Place, London SW1P 1PH; pounds 3.50.