, Volume 20, Issue 7, pp 572-577

Implementing a screening and diagnosis program for dementia in primary care

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Abstract

BACKGROUND: Primary care physicians are positioned to provide early recognition and treatment of dementia. We evaluated the feasibility and utility of a comprehensive screening and diagnosis program for dementia in primary care.

METHODS: We screened individuals aged 65 and older attending 7 urban and racially diverse primary care practices in Indianapolis. Dementia was diagnosed according to International Classification of Diseases (ICD)-10 criteria by an expert panel using the results of neuropsychologic testing and information collected from patients, caregivers, and medical records.

RESULTS: Among 3,340 patients screened, 434 scored positive but only 227 would agree to a formal diagnostic assessment. Among those who completed the diagnostic assessment, 47% were diagnosed with dementia, 33% had cognitive impairment—no dementia (CIND), and 20% were considered to have no cognitive deficit. The overall estimated prevalence of dementia was 6.0% (95% confidence interval (CI) 5.5% to 6.6%) and the overall estimate of the program cost was $128 per patient screened for dementia and $3,983 per patient diagnosed with dementia. Only 19% of patients with confirmed dementia diagnosis had documentation of dementia in their medical record.

CONCLUSIONS: Dementia is common and undiagnosed in primary care. Screening instruments alone have insufficient specificity to establish a valid diagnosis of dementia when used in a comprehensive screening program; these results may not be generalized to older adults presenting with cognitive complaints. Multiple health system and patient-level factors present barriers to this formal assessment and thus render the current standard of care for dementia diagnosis impractical in primary care settings.

Supported by grant R01 HS10884-01 from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.