Dementia patients who regularly see the same GP tend to be in better health, a study suggests.
University of Exeter experts found dementia sufferers enjoyed a raft of benefits over their peers if they consistently saw the same doctor.
They also had a better chance of getting medication that was a good match and less likely to cause side effects.
The study of 9,000 patients found those who saw a regular doctor were 9.7 per cent less likely to be admitted to hospital within a year.
Additionally, those with a regular GP were 35 per cent less likely to develop delirium, a severe state of confusion commonly experienced by dementia suffers.
Experts say it is crucial people with the disorder have the same GP because it allows them to better pick up on the nuances of their condition and better understand their needs.
But figures show a growing number of Britons are not getting to see their preferred GP, with a recent NHS survey showing only 45 per cent of people did.
The health system is increasingly relying on locum doctors rather than permanent GPs, and is also facing a combined shortage of doctors and burnout from those that are working due to the Covid pandemic
A study has found dementia suffers who saw the same individual GP are less likely to suffer a swath of health problems associated with the condition such as delirium or needing to prescribed potentially incontinence causing medication (stock image)
Lead author of the study, Dr João Delgado, said as well as important for a patient’s quality of life and survival chances, improving care also helped keep costs for the NHS down by keeping dementia sufferers out of hospital.
‘Our research shows that seeing the same general practitioner consistently over time is associated with improved safe prescribing and improved health outcomes,’ he said.
‘This could have important healthcare impacts, including reduced treatment costs and care needs.’
The research also team found dementia patients who were consistently seen by the same GP were less likely to be given medicines that can cause problems like incontinence, drowsiness and falls.
Charities estimate that dementia currently costs the UK £34.7billion in care per year.
Study co-author, Sir Denis Pereira Gray, a research GP at St Leonard’s Practice in Exeter, said: ‘These new findings show that GP continuity is associated with important benefits for patients.’
‘Whilst national policy makers have for years discouraged continuity, general practices can still provide good GP continuity through their internal practice organisation, for example, by using personal lists.’
The study, published in the British Journal of General Practice, analysed over 9,000 anonymised patient records of people with dementia in 2016 who had seen a GP at least three times in the previous year.
Responding to the study’s findings, the Alzheimer’s Society’s said it highlighted the importance of consistency in GP care, and warned this had been disrupted by the Covid pandemic.
The charity’s associate director of research, Dr Richard Oakley, said: ‘The pandemic has put GP services under immense pressure, so while we might not be able to get consistent GP care for everyone with dementia tomorrow, policymakers should absolutely be working with the NHS to build this into their plans as we emerge from the pandemic,’ he said.
GP services in the UK were hit hard by Covid due to the impact of the virus itself on staff numbers, and the vaccination and booster campaigns in 2021.
Even when Covid cases have been low, GP services have struggled to recover to pre-pandemic levels in some aspects.
NHS Digital data shows the proportion of face-to-face appointments by GPs in England remains just below 60 per cent as of the week commencing January 3.
This compares to around 80 per cent of appointments being face-to-face prior to the start of the Covid pandemic.
Dementia is one of the leading causes of death in the UK, with nearly 900,000 people living with the disease. The figure is thought to be over 5million in the US.
The syndrome is infamously characterized by memory loss due to a progressive decline in brain function among those 65-years-and-older.
WHAT IS DEMENTIA? THE KILLER DISEASE THAT ROBS SUFFERERS OF THEIR MEMORIES
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of neurological disorders
A GLOBAL CONCERN
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of progressive neurological disorders (those affecting the brain) which impact memory, thinking and behaviour.
There are many different types of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common.
Some people may have a combination of types of dementia.
Regardless of which type is diagnosed, each person will experience their dementia in their own unique way.
Dementia is a global concern but it is most often seen in wealthier countries, where people are likely to live into very old age.
HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE AFFECTED?
The Alzheimer’s Society reports there are more than 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK today, of which more than 500,000 have Alzheimer’s.
It is estimated that the number of people living with dementia in the UK by 2025 will rise to over 1 million.
In the US, it’s estimated there are 5.5 million Alzheimer’s sufferers. A similar percentage rise is expected in the coming years.
As a person’s age increases, so does the risk of them developing dementia.
Rates of diagnosis are improving but many people with dementia are thought to still be undiagnosed.
IS THERE A CURE?
Currently there is no cure for dementia.
But new drugs can slow down its progression and the earlier it is spotted the more effective treatments are.
Source: Alzheimer’s Society