Communication problems between dementia carers and general practitioners: effect on access to community support services

David G Bruce, Glenys A Paley, Peter J Underwood, David Roberts and Duncan Steed
Med J Aust 2002; 177 (4): 186-188.


Objectives: To investigate the circumstances that led general practitioners to refer dementia sufferers and their carers to community support services.

Design: Qualitative study using semi-structured interviews, carried out between
1 September 1999 and 30 April 2000.

Setting and participants: 21 live-in carers of patients with dementia referred for the first time to a Western Australian metropolitan Aged Care Assessment Team, and 19 of their referring general practitioners.

Results: Most referrals occurred after the carers had been experiencing carer stress, and were precipitated by crisis situations. Carers failed to discuss their difficulties with the referring GP for a variety of reasons, including the belief that they should cope because it was their duty. The doctors found it difficult to know how the carers were coping or when to intervene, and some carers tended to resist their attempts to help. Time constraints were a significant problem for both groups.

Conclusion: Attitudinal barriers in both carers of patients with dementia and GPs, combined with time constraints, often lead to inadequate assessment of carer problems. While it is important that strategies to improve communication between carers and GPs are developed, it would be sensible for GPs to assume that dementia carers are at risk of carer stress and should be encouraged to use community care services.

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  • David G Bruce1
  • Glenys A Paley2
  • Peter J Underwood3
  • David Roberts4
  • Duncan Steed5

  • 1 Department of Medicine, University of Western Australia, Perth, WA.
  • 2 Department of Health Sciences, Curtin University, Perth, WA.
  • 3 School of Nursing, Edith Cowan University, Churchlands, WA.
  • 4 Fremantle Regional Division of General Practice, Fremantle, WA.



This project was funded by a grant from the Health Department of Western Australia. The supporting source had no involvement in the study design or in the preparation of this manuscript.

Competing interests:

None identified.

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