Improved diagnosis and effective services can reduce the impact of dementia

Accurate diagnosis of neurological and psychological conditions suffered by older people, including dementia, is key to reducing both the suffering and the costs associated with these disorders, according to the Australian Psychological Society (APS).

A recent Government report, released Monday 9 April, has confirmed that existing services are not meeting the needs of people in aged care, particularly those with dementia.

The APS believes inaccurate assessment, and the failure to provide appropriate support and therapies, are costing the Government millions and causing undue suffering to thousands of older Australians.

Clinical neuropsychologist Mr David Stokes, APS Executive Manager of Professional Practice, said: “Too many older Australians and residents of care homes are falling through the cracks, and being unnecessarily medicated rather than receiving the proper diagnosis and treatment that is their right.”

He said: “Delays in diagnosis mean the opportunity to intervene before a condition becomes too advanced is lost. Misdiagnosis can lead to medications being wrongly prescribed which can actually worsen people’s symptoms and, in some cases, cause dangerous side-effects.”

In a Budget submission earlier this year the APS set out a plan for increased neuropsychological assessment services and better psychological care for residents in aged care facilities.

Neuropsychological assessment can distinguish between normal ageing, depression, mild cognitive impairment and various types of dementia, and also predict those likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

Mr Stokes explained: “Changes in memory, often the first concern reported, have many causes. They can be the result of normal ageing or of medication, or could be a result of a range of conditions including dementia, depression, stroke or mild cognitive impairment. Effective treatment will vary enormously, depending on the cause. Getting diagnosis right ensures the best treatment and even savings on unnecessary medication.”

The World Health Organisation has estimated that brain diseases and disorders account for the largest proportion of medical disability in the developed world but Australians are unable to access specialist clinical neuropsychological services under the current Medicare system.

Along with a lack of diagnostic services, residential aged care facilities have limited access to specialist psychological services which could help staff and patients in managing conditions, including dementia, depression and anxiety and often associated behaviour disturbance.

“People with dementia can become confused which can lead to aggression, or become depressed due to their failing memory and health.   There are well established behavioural and psychological approaches that can help sufferers, carers and staff reduce the distress of these conditions,” Mr Stokes said. 

“It is estimated correct diagnosis could save the government $7.7million per year. Such services along with appropriate psychological interventions will benefit not just those people with dementia but older people across the board, improving care, reducing costs and most importantly improving the health and well-being of Australia’s ageing population.”

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Notes to editors: More information is available on page 7 of the APS submission:

Additional information on neuropsychological assessments and psychological services in aged care is below:

For more information or to arrange an interview, call Rebecca Matthews on 0435 896 444 or 03 8662 3358, or Judith Heywood on 03 8662 3301. Find us on Twitter:  @APS_Media.
The APS is the largest professional association for psychologists in Australia, representing more than 20,000 members. The APS is committed to advancing psychology as a discipline and profession. It spreads the message that psychologists make a difference to peoples’ lives, through improving psychological knowledge and community wellbeing.