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Women with dementia receive less medical attention than men, reveals study

07-Dec-16
Article By: Melissa McAlees, News Editor

Women with dementia have fewer visits to the GP, receive less health monitoring and take more potentially harmful medication than men with dementia, according to new research by University College London (UCL).

The study, published in the journal Age and Ageing, also found that only half of all dementia patients had a documented annual review even though GP surgeries are offered financial incentives to carry these out, and women were found to be at particular risk of staying on antipsychotic or sedative medication for longer.

Dr Claudia Cooper, lead researcher at UCL Psychiatry, said: “As women tend to live longer than men, they are more likely to live alone without a family carer to help them access healthcare. Perhaps because of this, they are more at risk of missing out on medical help that might help them stay well for longer.

“We found that women were more likely to be on psychotropic drugs – sedatives or anti-psychotics –which can be harmful in the long term and may not be appropriate. Women tended to stay on such drugs for longer, perhaps because they have fewer check-ups to see if the drugs were still needed.

“Women with dementia who live on their own may need additional support accessing healthcare services. We should ensure GPs have the resources to proactively engage with these patients and review their condition regularly to make sure their treatment plan, including any drugs, are appropriate.”

The researchers analysed the records of 68,000 dementia patients and 259,000 people without dementia to compare their access to healthcare services, using The Health Improvement Network (THIN) database. Overall, people with dementia received less medical care than those without, even though they are more vulnerable to physical and mental illnesses.

“Dementia can cause a wide range of physical complications, including difficulties swallowing and mobility problems,” added Dr Cooper. “People with dementia are particularly susceptible to malnutrition, as they may have difficulties eating, preparing food or remembering to eat.

“Previous research has shown that up to 45 per cent of dementia patients experience clinically significant weight loss, which can lead to further physical problems and frailty. However, despite this high risk, less than half of dementia patients are currently receiving an annual weight check-up.”

George McNamara, head of policy at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “This research adds to the many concerns surrounding a condition which is already the most feared among people over 55. In addition to facing an illness without a known cure, people with dementia should not be expected to face inequalities in accessing the few health services that are available.

“Everyone with dementia should have an annual review, but this research raises some grave concerns that women, who are disproportionately affected by the condition, aren’t getting the support they need. What is particularly worrying is that medication isn’t been reviewed regularly, which could lead to the prolonged and unnecessary use of antipsychotics.

“'What is clear is that people with dementia need support to help them access the various health and care services they are entitled to. For many people this will be in the form of a family carer, however many are left by Government to rely on charities or threadbare social care services. We need to see an end to the increasingly impossible environment in which these services operate as a matter of urgency.”

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Martha Girvan

Martha Girvan

07 Dec 2016 3:12 PM

I agree there is a lack of dementia knowledge but it's up to the providers to train.