Sporting codes should change to limit dementia risk: RACGP

Jolyon Attwooll

10/02/2023 4:12:17 PM

The call was included in a submission for the National Dementia Action Plan, with traumatic head injuries a recognised risk factor for the disease.

Person holding football
Awareness has grown around the link between concussion and dementia in recent years, with concerns aired for the risks involved in sports such as rugby union, soccer and AFL.

Sporting codes should be changed to help prevent head injuries and reduce the risk of dementia, according to a new RACGP submission to the Department of Health and Aged Care.
The recommendation is part of college feedback sent in response to an in-depth consultation paper designed to inform a new National Dementia Action Plan.
The college notes that traumatic brain injury is included among the Lancet Commission’s list of 12 potentially modifiable risk factors for the disease, which is one of the leading causes of death among the elderly in Australia.
‘It emphasises the importance of engaging in sports activities in a safe way and wearing protective gear where head injury is possible,’ the submission reads.
According to the RACGP, the action should be put in place by sporting codes to ‘reduce recurrent head trauma’.
The issue of concussion and repeated head trauma is also the subject of a current Senate inquiry, and has gained a higher profile in recent years with concerns aired for the risks involved in sports such as rugby union, soccer and AFL.

Among the other suggestions in the RACGP submission, which was sent to Federal Health and Aged Care Minister Mark Butler, is that dementia training for GPs should be freely available.
‘GPs are often the first contact for people experiencing early signs of dementia,’ the document states.
‘It is important that GPs are trained to properly recognise early signs of dementia so that they can refer people to a specialist for diagnosis when it is appropriate.’
The training would include guidance for identifying, managing and communicating with patients and their families about dementia.
However, the RACGP is opposed to a suggestion for ‘semi-specialist’ GPs or nurse practitioners to focus on dementia.
‘The RACGP does not support micro-credentialing as professionals should work within their scope of practice and seek relevant education to match the need of their patient populations,’ the submission states.
‘Credentialling of GPs will create more barriers for patients to access appropriate dementia care. For example, the additional time and capacity needed to complete courses, especially for the rural GP workforce, is often not available.
‘The RACGP recommends that a better approach would be to make on-demand resources and appropriate remuneration available for all GPs.’
The college also requested the removal of a reference within the consultation document in which the use of GP time-tiered Medicare funding arrangements was floated as a potential solution for compensating for the time it takes to work through cognitive concerns towards diagnosis.
‘This statement is incorrect, as Medicare Benefits Schedule rebates are inadequate to support long consultations,’ the submission reads.
Proposals to facilitate better communication between GPs and other health providers, including hospitals and aged care providers, as well as improvements to the availability of emergency respite care, are among the other recommendations put forward by the college.
The submission also highlights the need for healthcare providers ‘to seamlessly share clinical information in real time, creating a “single source of truth” medical record that is accessible to all clinicians involved in an older person’s care’.
According to the RACGP, there should be transparency about the funding set aside to support the action plan once it is put in place, as well as explicit actions and targets.  
Last year the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare calculated there were approximately 401,300 people in the country living with dementia, while Dementia Australia estimates the disease directly affects as many as 487,500 people.

Submissions for the Senate inquiry into concussions and repeated head trauma in contact sports are open until 17 February and can be sent via the Parliament of Australia website.
The full college submission for the National Dementia Action Plan can be read on the RACGP website.
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