Background: Prior research has found that dementia is often undiagnosed in primary care, but there has been limited research on whether physicians respond to symptoms, behaviors, or other events that may be indicators of dementia.
Methods: A cross-sectional cohort study design was used to screen 553 patients aged 75 years or older for dementia in 3 managed health care systems in Portland, Oregon. For participants determined to be cognitively impaired, their medical charts were reviewed to determine if they had experienced adverse events, had been clinically evaluated for possible dementia, had received a diagnosis of dementia, or had been offered treatment.
Results: Nearly 43% of participants were identified as cognitively impaired: 29.7% were classified as mildly cognitively impaired (MI) and 13.7% as moderately to severely cognitively impaired (MSI). Eighteen percent of the MI group and 34.8% of the MSI group had evidence in their medical chart of having been clinically evaluated for dementia. None of the MI group and only 4.3% of the MSI group had been offered a cholinesterase inhibitor. Nearly two thirds (61.6%) of the MI and three fourths (75.4%) of the MSI participants had experienced 1 or more adverse events. Of those who had experienced adverse events, less than one quarter (23.7%) in the MI group and less than one half (44.2%) in the MSI group had received a clinical evaluation for dementia.
Conclusions: These findings suggest the need for greater attention by primary care physicians to the cognitive functioning of older patients, especially patients who experience adverse events that may be indicators of dementia.