Progress On Diagnosing Dementia Stalls, Despite Government Initiatives, Study Finds

England has seen a stall in progress on diagnosing dementia, despite government initiatives to boost rates of detection, new research says.

A study by Dr Kamila Kolpashnikova, of the University of Oxford, found that while the rate of diagnosis improved until 2014, it stalled in the three years after that.  

Dr Kolpashnikova told the British Sociological Association’s online annual conference today [Wednesday, 14 April] that the government had launched two initiatives to increase detection rates. Early diagnosis can help people with dementia to get treatment to help control symptoms and allows families to prepare for the future.

The National Dementia Strategy, begun in 2009, was one of the first strategies of its kind in the world, encouraging GPs to make an early diagnosis for sufferers, reducing prescription of antipsychotic drugs and providing funds for high-quality treatment. It was replaced by two Dementia Challenge initiatives that ran from 2012.

She analysed data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing on 9,771 people aged 50 and over which showed that in the years 2006-2009, 1.83% of people aged over 80 were known to have dementia, rising to 4.75% in the years 2010-2014.

The figures for those aged 75-79 rose from 1.18% to 1.74% over the same period. The government strategies were an important part of this rise.

However, Dr Kolpashnikova found that rates overall stalled from 2015-2017, the latest year she analysed. The rate of over-80s known to have dementia fell from 4.75% to 3.79%, and most other age groups saw a fall in the rate.

She said that the current figure for those diagnosed with dementia, around half a million, was only an estimated two-thirds of the total who had the disease.

“There was a substantial increase in diagnosis following the implementation of National Dementia Strategy in 2009 and for the three years after, but there was a subsequent stall in the trend in the later years,” she told the conference. “This is evidence for the effectiveness of dementia-risk preventive and awareness policy actions and cautions against abandonment of early diagnosis for all.”

She said that the figures also appeared to show that the implementation of the most recent government initiative, the Dementia 2020 Challenge, launched in 2015, “had lagged”.