The detection of dementia in the primary care setting

Arch Intern Med. 2000 Oct 23;160(19):2964-8. doi: 10.1001/archinte.160.19.2964.


Background: Recognition and medical record documentation of dementia in the primary care setting are thought to be poor. To our knowledge, previous studies have not examined these issues in private practice office settings within the United States.

Objective: To determine the rate of unrecognized and undocumented dementia in a primary care internal medicine private practice.

Methods: This was a cross-sectional study of 297 ambulatory persons aged 65 years and older attending an internal medicine private group practice within an Asian American community of Honolulu, Hawaii. Of the subjects, 95% had been with their current primary care physician for at least 1 year. Each subject's primary care physician noted the presence or absence of dementia by questionnaire at the time of an office visit. An investigating physician (V.G.V.) subsequently assessed cognitive function using the Cognitive Abilities Screening Instrument, and confirmed the presence of dementia and its severity, if present, using Benson and Cummings' criteria and the Clinical Dementia Rating Scale, respectively. A trained research assistant completed telephone interviews to proxy informants for collateral information concerning cognition, behavior, and occupational or social function. Subjects' outpatient medical records were reviewed for documentation of problems with cognition.

Results: Twenty-six cases of dementia were identified. Of these 26, 17 (65%) (95% confidence interval, 44.3-82.8) were not documented in outpatient medical records; of 18 patients, 12 (67%) (95% confidence interval, 40.9-86.7) were not thought to have dementia by their physicians at the time of the office visit. Recognition and documentation rates increased with advancing stage of disease.

Conclusion: Dementia is often unrecognized and undocumented in private practice settings. Arch Intern Med. 2000;160:2964-2968

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Dementia / diagnosis*
  • Female
  • Geriatric Assessment*
  • Hawaii
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Psychological Tests