Raising dementia awareness through collaboration

Marita Long

25/09/2023 2:18:03 PM

GPs need to be better equipped with risk reduction tools and to help support patients with dementia, writes Dr Marita Long.

Medical collaboration.
Increased collaboration has helped to improve the resources clinicians have available when treating dementia.

In Australia there are close to 500,000 people living with dementia, and this is set to double by 2050 given our ageing population.
As the old adage goes: ‘prevention is better than cure’. But when there is no cure, prevention becomes even more important and the most effective intervention we can implement to address this significant public health issue.
In 2021, the MJA published a Dementia Prevention Action Plan. A key part of the plan is the suggestion that primary care needs to be better resourced to take on a leadership role in dementia risk reduction.
The plan also highlights the need for dementia risk reduction research to be translated into practice.
So, with this in mind, we at Dementia Training Australia (DTA) decided to work in conjunction with some key organisations, including Dementia Australia, to develop improved support for GPs in this space.
This has been a successful collaboration and a great step forward for both dementia and women’s health. We know women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with dementia and it is both the leading cause of death and disability for women.
Women also provide most of the care for people living with dementia – both paid and unpaid – which in itself can be a risk factor for the condition as it can lead to social isolation, stress and depression.
Following a successful joint presentation at HealthEd’s Annual Women and Children’s Update – attended by more than 5000 GPs – the groups further collaborated to produce an RACGP-accredited Measuring Outcomes CPD activity that introduces GPs to the CogDrisk tool and helps explain how to use it in practice to address the issue of dementia risk reduction.
The learning activity is available on the HealthED website, and CPD points will be automatically once GPs have completed the activity.
The RACGP was also supportive of the development of a learning activity so focused in on dementia prevention, which complements its Specific Interests Dementia group webinar series. This is a great example of working together to bridge the theory–practice gap.
Additionally, the RACGP’s Red Book links to the precursor of the CogDrisk, the ANU-ADRI, with updates of the Red Book currently underway.
What is CogDrisk?
The CogDrisk is a validated online tool, developed by Professor Kaarin Anstey’s team at NeuRA, that uses the latest evidence to help individuals better understand their risk profile for dementia.
It can be used by anyone over the age of 18, takes about 20 minutes, and generates a personalised report that can be downloaded and taken along to their GP, who can then discuss how they may be able to support the individual to reduce their overall risk of dementia.
The risk is adjusted for age and gender, and along with the written report a risk score is generated with results being between 0 and 36.25 (for anyone over the age of 40). This score relates to the individual’s risk at age 65 if they weren’t to modify any of their risk factors.

Dr Marita Long is a GP with a special interest in dementia and an educator at Dementia Training Australia.
While the CogDrisk can be done at age 18 or over, the 45–49-year-old health assessment is an opportune time to introduce it for most of our patients. We know the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease starts some 20–30 years before symptoms appear, so midlife is a great time to assess any risks and work out how best to modify these.
It can, however, been done opportunistically for any group that is at risk of dementia, and actually most of these people are eligible for an annual health assessment; for example, over-75s, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations, anyone living in a residential aged care facility or for those with an intellectual disability.
Raising awareness through collaboration
September is World Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and this year, Alzheimer’s Disease International is raising awareness of the importance of dementia risk reduction and optimising brain health throughout the whole of life.
Collaboration between Dementia Australia, the RACGP, Dementia Training Australia and HealthED to work on dementia risk reduction doesn’t happen all that often and has resulted in a high level of engagement. Already more than 1000 GPs have enrolled in the RACGP learning activity.
By working together as organisations who have an interest in equipping GPs to better care for dementia, we can achieve a lot more than working in silos.
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Dr Christopher Michael Bollen   26/09/2023 10:01:49 AM

Great work Marita. Dementia and the growing numbers being managed in primary care are a great example why the WIP funding for employing nurses and pharmacists in our practices must increase substantially. At the least, every full time GP should be working in a team together with a full time RN (1:1 ratio not the 0.3:1 ratio that exists currently) and a sessional pharmacist . Hope the 2024 budget delivers this, otherwise all these great screening initiatives will never gain the penetration in primary care that our community requires.