Intended for healthcare professionals

Letters Crisis in dementia care

The benefits of early diagnosis of dementia

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 22 May 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e3556
  1. Alistair Burns, national clinical director for dementia1
  1. 1Department of Health, Wellington House, London SE1 8UG, UK
  1. alistair.burns{at}

Sharvill questions the benefits of early diagnosis of dementia.1 It is wrong to suggest that people with dementia are different from those with “serious disease,” and that others who are “more needy” should take priority. An early and timely diagnosis is important because it gives people a definitive answer to complaints that might be causing distress and anxiety (and reassures those who have memory problems but do not have dementia). This is what people with dementia want, and it means that interventions can take place to avoid crises (which occur inevitably and are predicted by Sharvill). The economic benefit—avoiding unnecessary admission and institutionalisation—is well known. In any other branch of medicine a diagnosis rate of 42% would be scandalous.

No one can argue that dementia is not one of the greatest health and social care challenges we face, that “national crisis” does not underestimate the challenge, and that the ability to push improvements in the quality of care for people with dementia and their carers further and faster by the prime minister’s “challenge” is not a great opportunity.


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e3556


  • Competing interests: AB is editor of the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, national clinical director for dementia, and occasional expert witness.

  • AB is also professor of old age psychiatry, University of Manchester; clinical director, Manchester Academic Health Science Centre; and consultant old age psychiatrist, Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust.


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