Dementia patients who consistently see the same GP have a better quality of life, according to research carried out by the University of Exeter. The study showed seeing the same doctor every time led to fewer health complications and a decreased number of hospital visits.
The records of more than 9,000 individuals aged over 65 and living with dementia in England in 2016 were analysed for the research. The scientists noted those who consulted the same GP each time were prescribed fewer medicines and were less likely to be given drugs that can cause complications like falls or drowsiness.
Individuals with dementia who consistently saw the same doctor had their chances of developing delirium cut by 35 per cent. This state of confusion, which is often associated with the neurodegenerative condition, is distressing for both the patient and their loved ones.
Add to this the findings that the chances of being incontinent reduced by 58 per cent and emergency hospitalisation by ten per cent and there’s a strong argument for dementia patients to maintain the same GP. Cutting down such side effects from drugs and additional hospital admissions would be better for the individual and would save the NHS money.
Dr João Delgado, lead author of the study, said: “In the absence of a cure, long-term care is particularly important. Treating people with dementia can be complex, because it often occurs together with other common diseases.
“Our research shows that seeing the same GP consistently over time is associated with improved safe prescribing and improved health outcomes. This could have important healthcare impacts, including reduced treatment costs and care needs.”
Other experts in the area of dementia care have spoken out in support of the study, including its co-author, Sir Denis Pereira Gray, a GP researcher at Exeter’s St Leonard’s Practice. He noted that having a named GP was associated with important benefits for patients, despite national policymakers having discouraged continuity for years.
Dr Richard Oakley, associate director of research at Alzheimer’s Society, highlighted the better management and treatment of conditions for those living with dementia that seeing the same GP brings. He acknowledged the immense pressure GP services are under as a result of the pandemic, but suggested consistent care should be a priority for policymakers as we emerge from the challenges of Covid.
There are approximately 57 million people living with dementia across the world and this figure is expected to nearly triple to 153 million by 2050, according to a Global Burden of Disease study. Despite scientists in numerous countries working to better understand the condition, its causes and treatments, there’s currently no cure for dementia.
Instead, lifestyle choices, early diagnosis and drugs to slow its progression are the only options at present. Helping individuals to live as independently as possible with the disease has many elements to it and studies such as this latest one can affect decisions that change people’s everyday existence.