False diagnosis risk in dementia test

Concerns that memory test will increase GP workload without dementia resources.

GPs could be swamped with worried patients who have wrongly diagnosed themselves with dementia after using a test designed to detect early stages of the condition an expert has warned.

The Alzheimer's Society has developed a memory test as part of its campaign, 'Worried About Your Memory?', to prompt patients to consider if their forgetfulness is due to poor memory or an early sign of dementia.

The charity says that two-thirds of people in England with dementia are never diagnosed because they do not recognise the symptoms.

If patients answer 'yes' to a series of questions such as do you struggle to remember recent events or do you find it hard to follow conservations, then they are advised to see their GP as soon as possible.

But Professor Steve Iliffe, professor of primary care for older people at University College London, has warned against using a memory test to diagnose dementia.

'The problem with focusing on memory is that memory disturbances are also common in depression and anxiety, so there is a risk that GPs will have a large number of false positives to contend with.

'The commonest dementias, Alzheimer's and mixed Alzheimer's, often start with function disorders such as an inability to plan, to deal with unexpected situations and to manage complex tasks, rather than memory problems,' he said.

However, there are limited resources and no disease-modifying therapies available for managing people with dementia, added Professor Iliffe.

But Neil Hunt, chief execu-tive of the Alzheimer's Society, said that early diagnosis of dementia would allow patients to get important practical, emotional and medical care early on.

The campaign is funded by the DoH and forms part of its National Dementia Strategy. Information leaflets will be distributed to all GPs in England.

sanjay.tanday@haymarket.com

Worried About Your Memory Campaign 2008

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