Background: Primary care services frequently provide the initial contact between people with dementia and health service providers. Early diagnosis and screening programmes have been suggested as a possible strategy to improve the identification of such individuals and treatment and planning health and social care support.
Objective: To determine what early diagnostic and screening programmes have been adopted in primary care practice, to explore who should deliver these and to determine the possible positive and negative effects of an early diagnostic and screening programme for people with dementia in primary care.
Methods: A systematic review of the literature was undertaken using published and unpublished research databases. All papers answering our research objectives were included. A narrative analysis of the literature was undertaken, with the CASP tools used appropriately to assess study quality.
Results: Thirty-three papers were identified of moderate to high quality. The limited therapeutic options for those diagnosed with dementia means that even if such a programme was instigated, the clinical value remains questionable. Furthermore, accuracy of the diagnosis remains difficult to assess due to poor evidence and this raises questions regarding whether people could be over- or under-diagnosed. Given the negative social and psychological consequences of such a diagnosis, this could be devastating for individuals.
Conclusion: Early diagnostic and screening programmes have not been widely adopted into primary care. Until there is rigorous evidence assessing the clinical and cost-effectiveness of such programmes, there remains insufficient evidence to support the adoption of these programmes in practice.