The system could increase the number of people with dementia diagnosed within a two-year period by 21%

Helping clinicians to identify dementia

Research designed to help identify patients with dementia and reduce the burden on health services can expand its work thanks to a generous donation of more than £120,000 from the Halpin Trust.

Many people with dementia are never diagnosed or are diagnosed during the later stages of the condition when a diagnosis may be less helpful. It is a difficult task for GPs to recognise dementia symptoms and respond appropriately in the limited time available. Currently only around 50% of patients referred to memory clinics receive a diagnosis of dementia or mild cognitive impairment. The large number of patients who are concerned though don’t have dementia place a strain on stretched services locally, nationally and internationally and waiting times are rapidly increasing as there is simply not enough capacity to see everyone.

Dr David Llewellyn and his team from the University of Exeter have developed a clinical decision support system called DECODE to help identify which patients are most likely to benefit from a full dementia assessment.

The system could potentially increase the number of people with dementia who could be diagnosed within a two-year period by 21%. At the same time, a large proportion of cognitively healthy people could be picked up by the DECODE triage system; and these assessments could be reduced by up to 400%. 

The additional support for the project will enable the team to conduct vital feasibility work with GPs and memory clinics. This will determine how DECODE could be integrated into existing infrastructure, how satisfied patients and clinicians are with the system, and if any further updates are required to suit different contexts. The results will also help to understand the extent to which DECODE has the potential to improve patient outcomes and NHS efficiency.

The Halpin Trust have previously donated £100,000 to support the earlier stages of Dr Llewellyn’s work and this latest donation of £123,558 will help to take it to the next level.

Claire Halpin (Biology, 1979), who founded the Halpin Trust with her late husband Les (Mathematical Statistics and Operational Research, 1979 & Hon LLD, 2011), said: “Les’s father suffered from dementia, so this was a subject close to his heart – and he also loved to make things work better and more efficiently. We met with Dr Llewellyn in 2010 and were both taken with his approach to dementia research and his enthusiasm. His work has come a long way since then, and it’s great to see it beginning to be put into practice. I know that Les would have been very pleased with this achievement… and looking forward to the next challenge!”

“Our vision is to develop an intelligent system that simultaneously increases the timely diagnosis of dementia and reduces referrals, benefitting both patients and the NHS.” said Dr Llewellyn.

“We are incredibly grateful to the Halpin Trust for their continued support which has made all the difference. It’s been an exciting journey so far, and initial feedback about DECODE from clinicians and patients has been very positive.”

Date: 23 November 2017

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