Quarter of memory clinic patients may be misdiagnosed, Edinburgh study suggests

Around one in four memory clinic patients are likely to have a poorly understood brain condition which may be overlooked or misdiagnosed, a study suggests.

People who are likely to have functional cognitive disorder can often be dismissed or told incorrectly they are at high risk of developing dementia, according to a review of more than 200 papers.

The condition is linked to problems with memory and concentration and can sometimes include depression, anxiety, pain or fatigue.

It is caused by changes in how the brain works, rather than by direct injury or a degenerative disease, such as Alzheimer’s.

Memory and thinking problems can vary, stay the same or improve, compared to degenerative conditions where they worsen over time.

Analysis of a subset of 31 papers, 12 of which were UK studies, found that around a quarter (2,832) of the 12,003 patients were likely to have the condition rather than a degenerative brain disease.

Failure to treat it could harm people’s long-term health, the researchers at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Dementia Prevention are warning.

They say an incorrect diagnosis is likely to result in the wrong medical treatment, while inaccurate predictions may push other patients into making important decisions about their future.

The authors wrote: “Clinically, functional cognitive disorders are, if not exactly under-recognised, considered not to be the primary business of the memory clinic.

“Functional cognitive disorders are infrequently discussed and rarely investigated in dementia research despite probable ubiquity in midlife and preclinical cohorts, and little evidence exists to guide diagnosis and treatment.

“The harm associated with an incorrect clinical prediction of dementia cannot be underestimated.”

Researchers are now undertaking a clinical study with the aim of improving diagnosis of functional cognitive disorders.

The paper is published in the medical journal Lancet Psychiatry.

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Jane Barlow / PA Wire.