Dementia Patients Seek ER Care Twice as Often

Hospitalization among seniors can frequently lead to an array of health concerns – when daily life is upheaved, many elderly patients develop delirium, and surgery, medications, unfamiliar sounds, lights and sleep disruptions can cause a decline in mental state.   A recent study found that seniors with dementia seek emergency room treatment twice as often as older adults without Alzheimer’s or related dementias.  Some of these visits may be harmful and could be avoided. 

According to a recent Washington Post Well+Being Health report, a new study, published in JAMA Neurology, used data from the 2016-2019 National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey to analyze hospital use among patients with dementia.  Researchers found patients with dementia who arrived at the ER were most likely to be over the age of 85 and female.  Accidents, behavioural disturbances and general weakness were the most common reasons for seeking care. 

Upon arriving in the ER, patients with dementia were more likely to receive diagnostic tests such as CT scans or urinalysis – possibly because of communication problems or behavioural issues.  Although the risks of taking certain drugs are higher for dementia patients, they were also twice as likely to receive antipsychotic medication, which can lead to long-term use and an increased likelihood of falls and overall mortality. 

Although dementia patients can have behavioural issues that present challenges for caregivers, the ER is not the ideal place to seek care.  Long wait times, disorienting noise, lights, and crowds can worsen anxiety and other dementia symptoms.  Recently, more hospitals are creating geriatric-friendly emergency rooms that address some of the environmental concerns of traditional ERs and are staffed by trained personnel who are familiar with dementia patients. 

There are times when a hospital visit is necessary during an emergency.  Being prepared and planning for such events can lower the stress associated with the emergency room for seniors with dementia.  Enlisting a friend or family member who can stay with the patient while a primary caregiver fills out forms and explains the situation is helpful.  Let staff know the patient has dementia and suggest the best way to communicate with the individual.  Being calm, patient, and reassuring can reduce anxiety for a person with dementia.  Plan ahead by having snacks, comforting items, a change of clothes, medication, insurance paperwork and any other personal items such as glasses, dentures or hearing aid, prepared and ready to go.  Keeping a current list of all health conditions and medications is always essential in order to receive the best care possible.