According to a recent survey, primary care physicians worry about the medical profession’s ability to meet increased demand for dementia care in the United States. But there are steps we can take to change this.
There are currently more than 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease and that number is expected to reach nearly 14 million by mid-century unless new treatments are advanced.
With more seniors aging into the greatest risk category for developing Alzheimer’s and other dementias every day, there are growing concerns that the medical profession may not be ready to care for them.
A recent Alzheimer’s Association survey of primary care physicians (PCPs) found nearly 9 in 10 PCPs (87 percent) expect to see an increase in people living with dementia during the next five years, but half say the medical profession is not prepared to meet this demand.
Specifically, 82 percent of PCPs say they are on the front lines of providing dementia care, but not all are confident in their care for patients with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Nearly 39 percent report they are “never” or only “sometimes comfortable” making a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or other dementias; Nearly one-third report they are “never” or only “sometimes comfortable” answering patient questions about Alzheimer’s or other dementias, and 22 percent of all PCPs had no residency training in dementia diagnosis and care. Of the 78 percent who did undergo training, 65 percent reported that the amount was “very little.”
Ensuring PCPs are adequately prepared to provide dementia care is especially critical given the severe shortage of dementia care specialists. A recent state-by-state analysis by the Alzheimer’s Association found a severe shortage of geriatricians and other physician specialists who provide critical expertise in dementia diagnosis and care. We’re heading toward a medical emergency, wherein dementia care will not be available for all who need it.
To avoid the impending crisis, we must work to increase the number of dementia care specialists, while also ensuring dementia care education, training and ongoing learning opportunities are available for primary care physicians. The Alzheimer’s Association 2020 Facts and Figures report has outlined several steps the country can take to help bolster the future of dementia care.
Creating incentives and career pathways to recruit and retain healthcare professionals who specialize in gerontology, geriatrics, and dementia care is one such step. The report also recommends expanding collaborative and coordinated care models that use “teams” comprised of physicians, nurses, social workers and other allied health professionals to provide dementia care. We can increase educational funding to augment the number of providers available to diagnose and treat those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, we can build dementia care expertise and capacity in primary care, and we can identify gaps in current dementia care education and training by making dementia care training and CME more accessible for primary care physicians.
Advancing these and other needed solutions will help ensure timely, high-quality dementia care is available for all who need it.