Around 850,000 people in the UK have been diagnosed with dementia, with the number set to increase to one million by 2021, according to the Alzheimer’s Society.
As artificial intelligence (AI) advances, it will become easier to predict undiagnosed dementia in primary care and offer early access to treatment and support to those affected by different types of dementia.
Researchers from the University of Plymouth recently collected and analysed Read-encoded data from 18 GP surgeries across Devon relating to 26,483 patients aged over 65.
They used these codes to train a computer to spot patients that may have dementia, resulting in the computer correctly identifying 84% of people with dementia.
Is your practice correctly equipped to respond to the needs of this growing patient group?
People with dementia can experience challenges accessing their GP surgery, but the ‘services they provide in terms of diagnosis, support and planning can be a lifeline,’ according to Emma Bould, programme partnerships manager at the Alzheimer’s Society.
How to become a dementia-friendly practice
‘A dementia friendly practice is one that supports people with dementia in addressing such challenges, as well as working towards timely diagnosis and access to information, treatment, support and care planning. The practice staff are integral to this, with everyone having a good understanding of dementia and how it can affect a person,’ she adds.
A series of simple and low-cost changes to your practice can have a big impact on dementia sufferers, their carers and their families, Ms Bould continues.
‘These changes can include appointment reminders through texts, calls or stickers to put in diaries, consent procedures being put in place to involve carers, clear signage to get around the practice as well as to and from the toilet, prescription of medications at the same dosage to be taken at the same times to reduce confusion, signposting to important information and local services and the prioritisation of person- centred approaches in all care plans.’
In addition, Ms Bould recommends holding dementia training sessions for staff to help them understand what issues people with dementia are going through.
‘Alzheimer’s Society runs free Dementia Friends information sessions, which is a great starting point for practice staff,’ she adds.
The benefits for your practice
Training your staff on the needs of people with dementia is a good way to empower them and make them confident when dealing with these types of patients.
Richard Miller, a practice manager at the Great Bentley Surgery in Colchester, Essex, said his practice started working towards becoming a dementia friendly practice in December 2017 and completed the process in April 2018.
He found that his staff ‘are now far more aware of the needs dementia patients may have and with this being flagged up as soon as they enter a patient’s record, they are immediately aware that the patient may need extra time and understanding’.
‘Staff feel much better prepared and able to account for dementia patients’ needs, therefore they are more confident in doing their job,’ he explains.
But the benefits are not confined to dementia patients and practice staff, Ms Bould clarifies. In fact, implementing the changes needed to become a dementia friendly practice brought wider benefits to other patient groups, in particular those most vulnerable, such as the frail elderly.
‘Examples include a calmer environment in the practice, making it more inviting for those with anxiety or other mental health conditions.
‘Appointment reminders are useful for all patients and clear signage supporting patients with a mild visual impairment. By making changes now, practices will be anticipating a growing need from customers and staff and future proofing their organisation.’
The costs involved
Making the switch to becoming a dementia friendly practice will not take too much of your practice’s resources.
The Alzheimer’s Society cannot support GP practices financially to deliver the project, Ms Bould specifies. However, she says that many of the changes required are low cost, and simple to put in place.
Practices can also attend a local free-of-charge Dementia Friends information session or watch the training video online.
Mr Miller feels that this project helps them to ‘go the extra mile’ as a practice, ‘but at a minimum cost and additional burden so that we remain stable and viable’, while it might happen that practices put a lot of funding into projects falling beyond the requirements of the GMS contract, which could eventually lead to troubles.
The time scale
There is no set timeframe for how long it would take a practice to deliver this project, and the time spent on it will vary from practice to practice.
Ms Bould adds: ‘Every GP practice will be different, and a lot will depend on how dementia friendly a GP practice is to start with. It is likely that there will be a number of changes to be made, which can be prioritised into short term and longer term actions.
‘Take changes to the practice aesthetics as an example. People with dementia can find it difficult to look at patterns, and a more muted colour scheme could be considered when the practice is refurbished,’ she says.
Of course, some of your time as a practice manager will need to be allocated to the delivery of this project.
Mr Miller says: ‘Setting up a practice as dementia friendly did take up some of my time, but I balance this with what else is required and would only spend time on this once more important tasks have been completed.’
At present, he is also working to deliver a new support service by the Alzheimer’s Society, which is now being rolled out in a few areas as a pilot.
He worked with his admin manager to identify a spare room which is going to be used half a day every month to deliver the Dementia Connect pilot.
Patients will be able to book an appointment with a dementia advisor from the Alzheimer’s Society, who will work with them to create a care plan around their needs.