Dementia screening for all over 65s ruled out

The UK National Screening Committee (UK NSC) has advised against screening all over 65s for dementia, following an 'extensive review' of current evidence.

Screening for dementia in over-65s ruled out
Screening for dementia in over-65s ruled out

The committee said it could not recommend screening for dementia because early treatments to slow or prevent the disease do not exist at this time, suggesting little benefit in such a scheme.

It also concluded that the screening test - currently in the form of a questionnaire - is 'insufficiently reliable' for large-scale use.

The decision comes just months after NHS England announced its controversial dementia DES that financially rewards GPs for each dementia diagnosis. The scheme received widespread condemnation from GPs and the public.

On average, 18% of people test positive for mild cognitive impairment as a result of the screening. But only a third of these will go on to develop dementia, which could cause many patients with false-positive results undue worry.

Dr Anne Mackie, director of programmes for the UK NSC, said: ‘The evidence shows us that for every 100 people aged 65 tested, 18 would test positive, but only six of these would have dementia and one case would be missed.

‘This means we cannot recommend universal screening.’

Healthy lifestyle is key

GP Dr Charles Alessi, the dementia lead for Public Health England (PHE), said the current best way to safeguard patients against dementia was to encourage a healthy lifestyle.

‘In the absence of a treatment or cure, it is important that we take action to reduce the numbers of people getting dementia, delay the onset of dementia or reduce its impact,’ he said.

‘PHE and the UK Health Forum published the ground-breaking Blackfriars Consensus earlier this year, which makes the case for concerted action to reduce people’s risk of dementia by supporting them to live healthier lives by doing things like eating well, being active and not smoking.’

The UK NSC will next consider introducing the programme in three years’ time, or earlier ‘if significant new evidence becomes available’.

In the same meeting, the committee also recommended against national screening programmes for Gaucher disease, bacterial vaginosis and preterm labour.

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