To investigate General Practitioners' (GPs) attitudes and practices in relation to screening, diagnosing, and disclosing a dementia diagnosis to patients. National postal survey. A random sample of 600 GPs from a national database of 2,400. Of the 600 GPs surveyed, 60% returned questionnaires of which 50% (300) were useable. GPs reported diagnosing on average four new cases of dementia annually. A multivariate analysis revealed that females diagnosed significantly fewer cases annually (t=5.532, df=289, p<0.001). A large majority of GPs reported performing thyroid function tests (77%), B(12) (75%) and Folic acid tests (75%) to out rule reversible causes of cognitive impairment. The most reliable signs and symptoms of dementia identified were memory problems (58%). Main barriers to diagnosis were difficulty differentiating normal ageing from symptoms of dementia (31%), lack of confidence (30%) and the impact of the diagnosis on the patient (28%). GPs' age (chi(2)=14.592, df=3, p<0.005) and gender (chi(2)=11.436, df=3, p<0.01) were significantly associated with barriers to diagnosis. Only 19% claimed they often or always disclosed a diagnosis to a patient. Over one-third of GPs (38%) reported that the key factor influencing their disclosure patterns was their perceptions of the patient's level of comprehension. Most GPs (90%) had never undergone any dementia specific training and most (83%) expressed a desire for this. GPs experience difficulty diagnosing and disclosing a diagnosis of dementia to patients. To improve dementia care in Ireland, there is an urgent need to develop an active and more systematic approach to GP training in dementia care.
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