‘It’s never too early’: Dementia diagnosis in the spotlight

Michelle Wisbey

6/12/2023 1:45:59 PM

SPONSORED: A dementia diagnosis can be difficult for patients and GPs alike, but early interventions are proving key to improving lives.

Person with dementia with their carer.
More than 1.5 million Australians are currently caring for someone living with dementia.

From greater independence to skills retention and increased support, an early dementia diagnosis can be a gamechanger for patients.
But for GPs, diagnosing a patient can be challenging.
GP and coordinator of the Dementia Subgroup of RACGP Specific Interests Aged Care Dr Stephanie Daly told newsGP initial and early conversations with patients with a suspected diagnosis are critical.
‘We’re the ones who should be being alert to concerns, listening, and working out what the problem is in terms of whether there is a cognitive problem there,’ she said.
‘Once a person receives a diagnosis, [GPs should be] helping families to understand what’s going on through health education around what dementia is and how that person can maintain their skills and independence.
‘It’s about putting scaffolding supports around that person to maintain their independence.’
Dementia’s prevalence continues to rise and it has been estimated that around 800,000 people will be directly impacted by 2058.
With more than two-thirds of aged care residents already having moderate-to-severe cognitive impairment, GPs are key to facilitating best-practice interactions as patients move between the health and aged care sectors.
But it can be a scary time for patients as they accept their dementia diagnosis, and Dr Daly’s advice to GPs is to validate any concerns and not to judge.
‘If they’re coming to you with concerns, we need to listen and take that on board and either refer appropriately or assess it yourself,’ she said.
‘But you need to be very careful not to dismiss it as normal ageing or dismiss it as something that doesn’t need looking into because quite often people say, “well, there’s no point in doing anything about that because there’s nothing that can be done about it”.
‘We know that there’s a lot that you can do which is nonpharmacological but actually very effective in supporting people and maintaining their independence.’
For GPs supporting patients living with the condition, Dementia Australia has additional support services available, including an online referral system to get tailored care for patients and carers.
The organisation has also launched the free BrainTrack app, allowing patients to monitor and understand changes in cognition over time, which they can use to start a conversation with their GP.
Dr Daly said GPs are used to giving holistic care to patients, and that is the ‘hallmark of good dementia care’.
‘But there’s always a need for more education, there’s always a need for helping people to feel more confident,’ she said.
‘If you’re a person who’s got cognitive impairment, or you’re losing things all the time, or you’re struggling with your day-to-day function, you just want to know what’s going on.
‘Once they know the diagnosis, they might actually have something to work with … it’s never too early to find out if someone has dementia because the earlier you find out, the better.’
Additional information for patients can be found in The Dementia Guide, while GPs and healthcare professionals can access the referral system on the Dementia Australia website.
This article was commissioned by Dementia Australia.

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Dr Harsh Aggarwal   7/12/2023 9:26:13 PM

I hate, how in this article, the author has felt the liberty (or perhaps it is due to ignorance??) to interchangeably use dementia and cognitive impairment.