A new study has found that people with dementia who are consistently treated by the same physician are less likely to experience incontinence, drowsiness and delirium than those seeing multiple doctors.
The research, published in the British Journal of General Practice, found that continuity of care was a key factor in quality of life for dementia patients, with treatment by a single doctor over the course of a year reducing the number of medications prescribed and many of the ensuing side effects. Patients with access to the same doctor were 35 per cent less likely to develop delirium — a state of confusion common to dementia — and 58 per cent less likely to experience incontinence, a distressing reaction to certain drugs.
“The number of people with dementia has been rising steadily and it is now one of the leading causes of death in the U.K.,” said João Delgado, lead author of the study at the University of Exeter in England. “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 general practitioner consistently over time is associated with improved safe prescribing and improved health outcomes,” said Delgado. “This could have important health-care impacts, including reduced treatment costs and care needs.”
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of cognitive issues — such as memory loss and difficulty thinking or problem solving — that are significant enough to interfere with daily life, according to the Alzheimer Society. There are over 500,000 Canadians living with dementia today, with another 25,000 diagnosed with the progressive disease every year. Two-thirds of those diagnosed over the age of 65 are women.
It is projected that the total annual healthcare costs for Canadians with dementia will rise to $16.6-billion by 2031, double the total cost from 2011.
The current study, which analyzed the anonymous health records of 9,000 dementia patients 65 years of age or older, also found that patients with a single doctor were almost 10 per cent less likely to require emergency hospitalization than those with the greatest variation in doctors.
“For the 900,000 people living with dementia in the U.K., it’s likely dementia isn’t the only condition they’re getting treatment for,” said Richard Oakley, associate director of research at the UK’s Alzheimer’s Society. “It’s clear from this study that consistently seeing the same (general practitioner) has real benefits for people living with dementia — better management and treatment of conditions and lower risk of complications like delirium and incontinence — leading to improved quality of life.
“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.”
Dave Yasvinski is a writer with Healthing.ca