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Submission to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health and Ageing: Inquiry into dementia early diagnosis and intervention

9 May 2012

General practitioners (GPs) play an important role in recognising, assessing, diagnosing and managing dementia, and maintaining effective and ongoing communication and coordination between the patient, carer and family with primary and specialist providers. As the main primary health care provider, the GP is the first point of contact for patients concerned with possible memory loss. Approximately 83% of the Australian population consult a GP at least once a year and patients with dementia accounted for 0.4% of all GP encounters in 2009-2010 (1). In 2010-2011, 36% of persons aged 45-54 years saw a GP four or more times, this was much higher (72%) in persons aged >75 years (2).

The difficulties of making an early diagnosis, coupled with limited therapeutic options, are major barriers in diagnosing the disease for GPs. There are limited referral options for difficult cases where the diagnosis is unclear and often the patient has to wait for months to access these services. GPs are aware of difficulties in communication and disclosing that a person has dementia will affect both the patient and the family. In addition, dementia is still stigmatised and many people are anxious and distressed on receiving this diagnosis. The RACGP therefore welcomes the Committee’s review into some of these issues.