Clinical recognition of dementia and cognitive impairment in primary care: a meta-analysis of physician accuracy

Acta Psychiatr Scand. 2011 Sep;124(3):165-83. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0447.2011.01730.x. Epub 2011 Jun 11.


Objective: We aimed to examine the ability of the general practitioners (GPs) to recognize a spectrum of cognitive impairment from mild cognitive impairment (MCI) to severe dementia in routine practice using their own clinical judgment.

Method: Using PRISMA criteria, a meta-analysis of studies testing clinical judgment and clinical documentation was conducted against semi-structured interviews (for dementia) and cognitive tests (for cognitive impairment). We located 15 studies reporting on dementia, seven studies that examined recognition of broadly defined cognitive impairment, and eight regarding MCI.

Results: By clinical judgment, clinicians were able to identify 73.4% of people with dementia and 75.5% of those without dementia but they made correct annotations in medical records in only 37.9% of cases (and 90.5% of non-cases). For cognitive impairment, detection sensitivity was 62.8% by clinician judgment but 33.1% according to medical records. Specificity was 92.6% for those without cognitive impairment by clinical judgment. Regarding MCI, GPs recognized 44.7% of people with MCI, although this was recorded in medical notes only 10.9% of the time. Their ability to identify healthy individuals without MCI was between 87.3% and 95.5% (detection specificity).

Conclusion: GPs have considerable difficulty identifying those with MCI and those with mild dementia and are generally poor at recording such diagnoses in medical records.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Competence / standards*
  • Clinical Competence / statistics & numerical data
  • Cognitive Dysfunction* / diagnosis
  • Cognitive Dysfunction* / epidemiology
  • Cognitive Dysfunction* / psychology
  • Dementia* / diagnosis
  • Dementia* / epidemiology
  • Dementia* / psychology
  • Early Diagnosis
  • General Practitioners / standards*
  • General Practitioners / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Intelligence Tests
  • Medical Records, Problem-Oriented / standards*
  • Medical Records, Problem-Oriented / statistics & numerical data
  • Mental Competency*
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care
  • Primary Health Care / standards
  • Primary Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Risk Factors
  • Severity of Illness Index