Inequalities Found In The Care People Receive To Treat Dementia

A new study has found that racial inequalities appear to exist where access to dementia drugs is concerned, with Asian people with the disease 14 per cent less likely than their white counterparts to be prescribed anti-dementia medication when they could have been beneficial and received them for 15 fewer days per year on average.

Carried out by University College London (UCL) and published in the Clinical Epidemiology journal, the research also found that dementia patients from black ethnic groups prescribed antipsychotic drugs (used to treat dementia-related distress) take them for about four weeks longer a year compared to white people, going beyond the suggested limits for how long they should be taken.

Similar studies have been conducted in the US and Australia, finding disparities in drug treatment for the disease among minority ethnic groups.

Lead author of the study professor Claudia Cooper described the results as concerning since they seem to reflect inequalities in the care that patients receive to treat dementia-associated symptoms.

“Rates of antipsychotic prescribing in all ethnic groups exceeded recommendations for treating the often very distressing behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia, such as agitation or challenging behaviours, which are the most common reasons antipsychotic drugs are prescribed to people living with dementia,” she said.

She went on to add that although a sharp drop in antipsychotic prescribing has been seen in the UK in the last decade, the findings indicate that there is still work to be done to make sure that dementia patients only receive these “potentially harmful” drugs if no other acceptable alternatives are available.

Professor Cooper was also recently involved in a study that found dementia rates are higher among black people when compared to the UK average. Ethnic minorities may also be less likely to be diagnosed quickly.

There are ways in which the risk of dementia can be reduced, or its impact delayed – although there are some risk factors that can’t be changed, such as your age. Those with the condition are typically over the age of 65 and the risk of developing dementia doubles about every five years.

Some ethnic communities seem to be at higher risk as well, with Dementia UK noting that South Asian and African or African-Caribbean people seem to develop it more often than white Europeans.

Although getting older is the biggest risk factor for dementia, research suggests that up to one in three cases are in fact preventable. Modifiable risk factors include smoking, poor physical health, obesity, lack of exercise, high alcohol intake, diabetes and high blood pressure.

You can reduce risk factors by going to see your GP regularly for a health check – especially important if you have long-term conditions like thyroid issues and diabetes.

Focusing on diet can prove helpful as well, with brain-healthy foods including berries, fish, green leafy vegetables, nuts, olive oil, lentils, soya, red wine (in moderation), wholegrains, colourful vegetables and so on.

Drinking less alcohol – no more than 14 units a week – can help reduce the risks of dementia, while keeping physically fit and active can help you stay healthy as well.

It’s also important to stay socially active as well, while having lots of hobbies such as knitting, listening to music, learning a new language or doing puzzles – all of which can help stimulate different parts of the brain and also improve concentration and attention.

Symptoms of dementia include memory problems (such as forgetting the names of people or things, having trouble remembering the day and date of the week, for example), issues with thinking skills (such as feeling as though thoughts and memories are clouded, struggling to follow conversations and finding that it takes longer to process information).

Mood swings, being irritable or short-tempered and losing interesting in socialising and hobbies can also be symptoms, and if any of these manifest themselves or start to affect daily life, making an appointment with your GP could prove useful.

Your doctor will be able to carry out tests to check your memory and thinking, in order to decide what is causing your symptoms. Patients may then be referred to a memory clinic or specialist consultant for a fuller assessment.

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