Patient and caregiver perspectives on a tool to increase recognition of undiagnosed dementia: a qualitative study

BMC Geriatr. 2021 Oct 26;21(1):604. doi: 10.1186/s12877-021-02523-0.


Background: Early detection of dementia may improve patient care and quality of life, yet up to half of people with dementia are undiagnosed. Electronic health record (EHR) data could be used to help identify individuals at risk of having undiagnosed dementia for outreach and assessment, but acceptability to people with dementia and caregivers is unknown.

Methods: We conducted five focus groups at Kaiser Permanente Washington (KPWA), an integrated healthcare system in Washington State, to explore people's feelings about timing of dementia diagnosis, use of EHR-based tools to predict risk of undiagnosed dementia, and communication about risk. We recruited people enrolled in KPWA who had dementia or mild cognitive impairment, people enrolled in KPWA who had neither diagnosis, and caregivers (i.e., loved ones of people with dementia who assist with various tasks of daily life). People who were non-white or Hispanic were oversampled. Two team members analyzed transcripts using thematic coding.

Results: Forty people (63% women; 59% non-white or Hispanic) participated in the focus groups. Themes that arose included: perceived pros and cons of early dementia diagnosis; questions and concerns about a potential tool to assess risk of undiagnosed dementia; and preferences related to patient-provider conversations disclosing that a person was at high risk to have undiagnosed dementia. Participants supported early diagnosis, describing benefits such as time to adjust to the disease, plan, involve caregivers, and identify resources. They also acknowledged the possible psychosocial toll of receiving the diagnosis. Participants supported use of an EHR-based tool, but some people worried about accuracy and privacy. Participants emphasized that information about risk of undiagnosed dementia should be communicated thoughtfully by a trusted provider and that the conversation should include advice about prognosis, treatment options and other resources when a new dementia diagnosis was made.

Conclusion: People with dementia or mild cognitive impairment, people with neither diagnosis, and caregivers of people with dementia supported using EHR-based tools to help identify individuals at risk of having undiagnosed dementia. Such tools must be implemented carefully to address concerns and ensure that people living with dementia and their caregivers are adequately supported.

Keywords: Dementia; Early diagnosis; Electronic health records; Focus groups; Risk assessment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Caregivers
  • Cognitive Dysfunction* / diagnosis
  • Cognitive Dysfunction* / epidemiology
  • Dementia* / diagnosis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Qualitative Research
  • Quality of Life