Dementia screening by GPs triples diagnosis rate

GP-led dementia screening could boost diagnosis rates threefold, research suggests, prompting calls for a rethink on UK screening policy.

Dementia screening: effective (Photograph: SPL)
Dementia screening: effective (Photograph: SPL)

Offering elderly patients a brief cognitive test during routine visits to primary care raised the rate of diagnosis of cognitive impairment two- to threefold, a US study found.

Three-quarters of those who failed the tests were later diagnosed with dementia. Alz­heimer’s UK has called for further research on population-wide testing in the UK.

In June 2010, the UK Natio­nal Screening Committee ruled that there was little evidence that screening for Alzheimer’s would reduce mortality or morbidity.

Researchers from the University of Minnesota offered a five-point cognitive test called Mini-Cog to 8,342 people aged 70 or over who had no memory loss.

A total of 26% of patients failed the test. Of those who agreed to further evaluation, 93% had cognitive impairment and 75% had dementia.

Across all patients undergoing screening, 11% were diagnosed with cognitive impairment, compared with 4% among those in standard care. This equates to 2.75 times the background diagnosis rate.

Essex GP Dr Ian Greaves, whose in-practice memory service won a GP Enterprise Award in 2010, said he would welcome greater in-surgery screening. This would help GPs to address patients’ needs and cut hospital admissions, he said.

An Alzheimer’s Society spokesman said: ‘Dementia tests may be one way of catching people who would otherwise slip through the net. ‘We would welcome further research into the value of pop­ulation testing in the UK.’

Up to 750,000 people have dementia in the UK but more than half are undiagnosed. In December, MPs anno­unced an inquiry into dementia care.

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