Improving professional practice in the disclosure of a diagnosis of dementia: a modeling experiment to evaluate a theory-based intervention

Int J Behav Med. 2009;16(4):377-87. doi: 10.1007/s12529-008-9023-3.


Background: Among health professionals, there is wide variation in the practice of disclosing a diagnosis of dementia to patients.

Purpose: The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effect of one theory-based and two pragmatic interventions on intention to perform three behaviors, namely (1) finding out what the patient already knows or suspects about their diagnosis; (2) using the actual words "dementia" or "Alzheimer's disease" when talking to the patient (i.e., the use of explicit terminology); (3) exploring what the diagnosis means to the patient.

Method: Within an intervention-modeling process, members of old-age mental health teams in England were sent postal questionnaires measuring psychological variables. Respondents were randomized by team to one of four groups to receive: theory-based intervention; evidence-based communication; patient-based intervention; or no intervention (control). Interventions were delivered as pen-and-paper exercises at the start of a second postal questionnaire that remeasured the same psychological variables. The outcome measures were intention and scenario-based behavioral simulation.

Results: Responses were received from 644 of 1,103 (58%) individuals from 179 of 205 (87%) mental health teams. There were no significant differences in terms of intention or simulated behavior between the trial groups. The theory-based intervention significantly increased scores for attitudes to (p = 0.03) and perceived behavioral control (p = 0.001) for the behavior of "finding out what the patient already knows or suspects about their diagnosis."

Conclusions: The intervention had a limited effect. This may be partly explained by clinical or methodological factors. The use of a systematic intervention modeling process allows clearer understanding of the next appropriate steps which should involve further evaluation of the interventions using an interactive delivery method in a less selected group of study participants.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Dementia / diagnosis*
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Patient Simulation
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'*
  • Professional-Patient Relations*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Truth Disclosure*