Tool aims to give clearer picture on life expectancy for dementia patients

Scientists are hoping a new tool may help provide dementia patients with a clearer picture on life expectancy, allowing their families and doctors to plan the necessary care.

The incurable disease can take hold differently from person to person, with some able to live for many years while others have forms that progress more aggressively.

The dementia survival probability tool, developed by researchers at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute and from the Netherlands, aims to give a better indication of severity of the disease at the point of diagnosis.

Looking at the effect on post-diagnosis life expectancy of a number of easily identifiable factors – sex, age, cognitive ability and comorbidity – scientists were able to produce one table for primary care physicians.

A second table aimed at specialist clinics includes specific sub-types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, allowing doctors to get an idea of how likely it is that the patient will die within three years of diagnosis.

The study, published in the Neurology journal, monitored patients aged over 65 who were diagnosed with dementia and registered in the Swedish Dementia Registry between 2007 and 2015.

It included more than 50,000 people who were checked using various health data registries through to 2016, by which time 20,000 of them had died, on average after a median time of 4.8 years following diagnosis.

Sara Garcia-Ptacek, corresponding author of the study and a neurologist at Stockholm South General Hospital, said the tool should be a useful aid in answering the many patients who are concerned about how their disease will progress.

“It can also be used in conversations about future care with patients who don’t raise the issue themselves,” she added.

“In those cases, a tool like this can be an incentive to start such a conversation, which should be held before there are too many cognitive obstacles.

“This conversation could be about where someone would prefer to live, at home or in other accommodation, or anything else that needs planning.”

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