Academics from the University of Sydney will today (Tuesday 10 September) claim that a 'political drive' to screen for pre-dementia is leading to over-diagnosis and 'potentially harmful' treatment.
Criticisms of the need to raise diagnosis rates published in the British Medical Journal today are 'astounding' according to leading charity Alzheimer's Society. The research, presented at the BMJ's Preventing Overdiagnosis conference in New Hampshire, also claims that efforts to increase diagnosis are costly and diagnostic tools not reliable.
Alzheimer's Society disputes the claims. Population screening does not exist in the UK and there are no plans to introduce it. The charity supports the current case finding approach where clinicians ask those who are at a higher risk of developing dementia if they are worried about their memory and then refer them for appropriate tests if they are concerned. Since its launch last year, the NHS' dementia case finding programme has proven incredibly popular.
More than half of people with dementia in the UK do not have a diagnosis, denying them access to treatments and support. While there is currently no cure for dementia, evidence shows current treatments for Alzheimer's can improve cognitive function for a number of years. A diagnosis also supports full access to care and support from families, friends and society at large.
Alzheimer's Society comment:
'It's astounding to hear talk of an 'unwanted war' on dementia when in fact we need nothing less than an all out fightback. We should be backing doctors up and down the country who are helping ensure people with dementia are diagnosed. Discussion of screening is irrelevant as no one is advocating its introduction. There is surely no other condition where we could tolerate, let alone encourage, people being kept in the dark, without treatments or support and unable to make decisions about their life.
The huge human cost of dementia is matched only by the spiralling cost to the economy of people with the condition who reach crisis point and need expensive hospital care. By 2021, a million people will have dementia. We cannot afford to bury our heads in the sand over the condition.'