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One in four memory clinic patients at risk of receiving wrong advice

Nov 2019: Almost a quarter of people who attend memory clinics have a poorly understood brain condition that is at risk of being overlooked or even misdiagnosed.

A team of CCBS researchers at Edinburgh Dementia Prevention have undertaken a systematic review of almost 250 scientific papers on people with memory problems.  They found that around one in four people attending memory clinics were likely to have functional cognitive disorder, rather than a degenerative brain disease.

Functional cognitive disorders is caused by changes in how the brain works, rather than by direct injury or a degenerative disease, such as Alzheimer’s. It is typically linked to problems with memory and concentration and can also sometimes be accompanied by depression, anxiety, pain, or fatigue. Unlike the deteriorating memory and thinking problems caused by dementia, in functional cognitive disorder, memory and thinking problems can be highly variable, stay the same, or improve over time.

People with functional cognitive disorder can often be dismissed, told incorrectly they are at high risk of dementia, or even given an inaccurate diagnosis of the disease. An incorrect diagnosis is likely to result in the wrong medical treatment and patients may make important decisions based on an inaccurate prediction about their future.

Scientists hope the findings will encourage health professionals to better treat the disorder.

People with functional cognitive disorders suffer greatly from their memory problems but often don’t get the right advice or treatment. This study shows us that functional cognitive disorder is common in memory clinics. I hope it will be the starting point for long-overdue research into better ways of diagnosing and treating patients with these conditions.

Dr Laura McWhirterEdinburgh Dementia Prevention, Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences

The research was funded by Baillie Gifford. It is published in medical journal Lancet Psychiatry.

Related links

Read the article in Lancet Psychiatry: Functional cognitive disorders: a systematic review. doi.org/10.1016/S2215-0366(19)30405-5

Dr Laura McWhirter's profile

Functional disorders research at the Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences

Edinburgh Dementia Prevention