Background. Early recognition of dementia is a key policy objective designed to maximize the efficacy of treatment and to provide timely and appropriate support before crisis occurs. The impact of early recognition of dementia is under-researched in primary care nursing.
Aim. To explore whether community mental health nurses (CMHNs), community nurses (CNs) and practice nurses (PNs) have different perspectives on early diagnosis of dementia and to consider the possible effects of any variation.
Method. Data are drawn from questionnaires completed by CMHNs (79), CNs (153) and PNs (36) who attended workshops offered on 24 occasions in 21 settings across the United Kingdom. The workshops attracted a range of primary care practitioners and were part of a training programme on early diagnosis of dementia.
Results. Analysis of the data shows some differences in knowledge, experience and confidence between the three nurse groups. CMHNs were more confident in their abilities to recognize dementia and found providing support less difficult than CNs and PNs. CMHNs considered that they were best placed to co-ordinate services for people with newly recognized dementia. CNs and PNs, however, reported experience of working with people with dementia and many appeared able to respond to early signs and to identify potential sources of support.
Conclusions. While CMHNs may have a key role in responding effectively to the newly identified needs of people with early dementia, other nurses working in the community are likely to encounter people with early dementia. In the context of a policy objective to identify people with dementia earlier, all community-based nurses should be able to recognize the possibility of dementia and support those undergoing referral or assessment. Their confidence in doing so should be enhanced by continued professional development. Training in dementia recognition, involvement in and membership of primary care teams supporting people with dementia should not be confined to CMHNs. Nurses who regularly encounter the general population of older people may be well placed to provide continuity of support for those who may, or may not, have cause to suspect that they or their relatives have early dementia.