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Specialist nurses clue to dementia diagnosis

The key to identifying patients predisposed to dementia could be held by district nurses visiting the elderly, says a senior researcher with the Royal District Nursing Service.

A new Royal District Nursing Service (RDNS) trial, now under way in Melbourne, focuses on pre-diagnosis and ensuring that clinical intervention is put in place before a patient is diagnosed with dementia by hospitals or a GP. 

Dr Susan Koch, who is also the chair of the Minister’s Dementia Advisory Group, said the trial involved a specialist nurse with expertise in dementia care operating from a RDNS site in Altona, which specifically cares for clients with cognitive impairment.

“This entails identifying symptoms and taking a strategic and clinical approach through the next steps, which includes helping the clients, their carers and their families through the journey – ideally before the first main destination – being formal diagnosis in the doctor’s surgery or in a hospital.

“All this removes the suddenness and the shock seen daily in doctors’ surgeries around the country where the patient has not had the advantage of timely explanation and preparation for change.

“Hopefully the trial will move to being accepted practice, thus helping everyone from the client and their carers and families to the GP and the nurses – and society itself,” Koch said.

She said RDNS had been invited to be part of a $25 million Partnership Centre Investigator Team dealing with cognitive and associated functional decline in the elderly. The Partnership Centre aims to target services, policies and practices and – through the implementation of research findings –improve the care and support of people with dementia.

“We will play a key role in this centre through a focus on clinical nursing issues in residential and community care of people with dementia.”

“Dementia is insidious,” said Dr Koch, who is principal research fellow at the RDNS Institute and Adjunct Associate Professor at La Trobe University. “It will increase from around 257,000 people in 2010 to just over 981,000 in 2050 and is predicted to become the leading cause of disability in Australia in four year’s time.”

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