Research from University College London suggests women have fewer GP appointments, receive less health monitoring and take more potentially harmful medication than men with dementia

A study published in the journal Age and Ageing has found women with dementia aren’t getting the same levels of care as men.

This manifests in fewer visits to the GP, less health monitoring and a higher chance of them remaining on medication which could prove harmful in the long term, such as antipsychotics. This might be because they have fewer appointments where their treatment can be reviewed.

Dr Claudia Cooper from the University College London (UCL) Psychiatry Deparment, said:

‘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. We found that women were more likely to be on psychotropic drugs – sedatives or anti-psychotics – which can be harmful in the long term and may not be appropriate. Women tended to stay on such drugs for longer, perhaps because they have fewer check-ups to see if the drugs were still needed.

‘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.’

The experts, from University College London, examined the health records of 68,000 dementia patients over a decade.

The team also discovered GPs saw women 10% less frequently than men, weighed them 9% less often, and checked their blood pressure 4% less frequently.

They were also 18% more likely than men to be given antipsychotic or sedative medications. Prolonged use of these types of drugs can have a negative effect on someone with dementia.

George McNamara, Head of Policy at Alzheimer’s Society, said:

‘This research adds to the many concerns surrounding a condition which is already the most feared among people over 55. In addition to facing an illness without a known cure, people with dementia should not be expected to face inequalities in accessing the few health services that are available.

‘Everyone with dementia should have an annual review, but this research raises some grave concerns that women, who are disproportionately affected by the condition, aren’t getting the support they need. What is particularly worrying is that medication isn’t been reviewed regularly, which could lead to the prolonged and unnecessary use of antipsychotics.

‘What is clear is that people with dementia need support to help them access the various health and care services they are entitled to. For many people this will be in the form of a family carer, however many are left by Government to rely on charities or threadbare social care services. We need to see an end to the increasingly impossible environment in which these services operate as a matter of urgency.’

Sources: dailymail.co.uk and alzheimersorg.uk and eurekaalert.org