This site is intended for health professionals only

Dementia screening programme 'potentially harmful'

The government's dementia screening programme has been slammed as “potentially harmful” by researchers published in the BMJ. 

Expanding diagnosis of dementia will result in 60% of people over 80 being diagnosed with dementia and up to 23% of non-demented older people being labelled with the condition, according to specialists from the UK and Australia. 

Current evidence suggests that although 5-15% of people with mild cognitive impairment will progress to dementia as many as 40-70% will not - and their cognitive function could improve. 

In fact, the researchers even questioned whether population aging is becoming a “commercial opportunity” for developing screening, early diagnosis tests and medicines marketed to maintain cognition in old age. 

The study states: “Current policy is rolling out untested and uncontrolled experiments in the frailest people in society without a rigorous evaluation of its benefits and harms to individuals, families, service settings, and professionals.” 

Dr Clare Gerada, Royal College of General Practitioners chair said: “This paper will be welcomed by the thousands of GPs who are concerned about screening for dementia when there is currently no sound science to back it up. 

“There is a risk that it creates more problems than it solves by generating false positives that worry patients and their families, as well as increasing unnecessary referrals to secondary care.” 

Dr Gerada called for better resourcing in the community to properly support people beyond diagnosis. 

The full study is available to view [paywalled] on the BMJ website