Do women suffering from dementia receive less health monitoring than men?

Written by Martha Powell

Researchers from University College London (London, UK) have revealed that women with dementia may receive less medical attention than men, including fewer GP visits and lower rates of annual monitoring. The team highlighted the need for those with dementia, specifically women, to have access to the services they need.
UK strategies for dementia, launched in 2009 by the Department of Health, prioritize fair access to both mental and physical healthcare. This study, recently published in Age and Ageing, used records to examine access to healthcare services and identify potential inequalities, including factors such as gender and deprivation.

The team analyzed the primary care records of 68,061 dementia patients and 259,337 healthy individuals using The Health Improvement Network database.  They observed that those suffering from dementia received less medical care than those without, even though these patients are vulnerable to physical and mental illnesses. In addition, the researchers discovered that only half of all dementia patients have an annual review of their disease, despite financial incentives offered to GP surgeries to carry these out.

The group discovered that deprivation was not associated with healthcare received. However, they observed that women with dementia had lower rates of surgery consultations, annual blood pressure monitoring and annual weight monitoring when compared with men suffering from the disease.

In addition, female dementia patients were demonstrated to be at particular risk of staying on inappropriate and potentially harmful drugs such as antipsychotics and sedatives. The team hypothesized this could be linked to the lower rate of consultations, as this could lead to fewer opportunities for treatments to be reviewed in these patients.

Lead author Claudia Cooper (University College London) explained: “As women tend to live longer than men, they are more likely to live alone without a family carer to help them access healthcare. Perhaps because of this, they are more at risk of missing out on medical help that might help them stay well for longer.”

The 2009 strategy is the first ever National Dementia Strategy to be implemented in England and it aims to improve dementia care services across the country. However, this study highlights that there is still more work to be done to reduce inequalities and ensure those with dementia, particularly women, are able to access services.

Cooper concluded: “Women with dementia who live on their own may need additional support accessing healthcare services. We should ensure GPs have the resources to proactively engage with these patients and review their condition regularly to make sure their treatment plan, including any drugs, are appropriate. Improving access to healthcare and reducing psychotropic drug use in people with dementia, especially women, could help them to live well with dementia for longer.”

Sources: Cooper C, Lodwick R, Walters K et al. Inequalities in receipt of mental and physical healthcare in people with dementia in the UK, Age Ageing. doi:10.1093/ageing/afw208 (2016) (Epub ahead of print); www.ucl.ac.uk/news/news-articles/1216/051216-women-dementia-less-medical-attention