Aims: We outline a proposal for the structural and functional features needed to develop a registry of dementias which can be used to collect standardised information that is both reliable and valid concerning cases of dementia in the specialised health care centres within a particular geographical area.
Development: Due to the shortage of information about aspects concerning the impact of dementias on the health care system (in terms of the usage of resources and patterns of detection, referral, diagnosis and treatment in usual clinical practice in primary and secondary care), a sequential implementation of the registry is proposed so that it can be adapted to each health district or region. The first step is to identify the cases and sources of information; second, a system for collecting data must be developed that allows information to be gathered in a standardised manner while at the same time making it possible to work in close collaboration with the specialists who diagnose dementia; and, third, it must be set up with the logistics and staff needed to centralise all the functions and activities of the registry.
Conclusions: Epidemiological surveillance is an essential instrument for planning, managing and distributing community health resources, for following up the natural history of chronic diseases and for assessing the impact of programmes of prevention. In this respect, and from a functional point of view, the proposed registry of dementias meets all the basic requirements of epidemiological surveillance.