Hospitals fail to spot dementia in more than a third of affected patients

Hospitals are failing to notice that more than a third of dementia patients suffer from the condition, a new study has found.

Researchers said that it is important for hospitals to spot dementia in patients so they can be treated appropriately and discharged safely.

Dementia patients are frequently admitted to hospital for other ailments, often due to them not being able to care for themselves properly.

The study, led by experts from University College London (UCL), tracked patients who were diagnosed with dementia and subsequently admitted to various general hospitals for a reason other than their dementia.

Hospitals failed to note dementia on more than a third of case notes in 2016 among patients who had been diagnosed with the condition in the year preceding their hospital admission.

However, this was an improvement from 2008 when hospitals failed to recognise a dementia diagnosis in more than half of sufferers, according to the study which has been published in the journal Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal Of The Alzheimer's Association.

"People with dementia are more likely to be admitted to general hospitals for other illnesses, partly due to difficulties taking care of themselves and once they're in hospital, those with dementia tend to have longer stays and face more complications," said lead author Dr Andrew Sommerlad, a Wellcome Trust research fellow from UCL's division of psychiatry.

"Hospital records need to accurately reflect the patient's condition so that doctors can tailor their care accordingly.

"While it is great that there is some improvement, a third of people with dementia are discharged from hospital without it being recognised that they have dementia.

"They may need help, for example, with remembering agreed new plans about their health and with remembering to take their medication, but this help cannot be given unless the condition is identified."

Doctors can better tailor the needs of patients with dementia if they are aware of the condition (Lynne Cameron/PA)
Doctors can better tailor the needs of patients with dementia if they are aware of the condition, experts say (Lynne Cameron/PA)

The team examined 138,455 hospital admissions from 21,387 people between 2008 and 2016, including 37,329 admissions of 8,246 people who had known dementia before general hospital admission.

Overall, between 2008 and 2016, hospitals recognised dementia in 63.3% of inpatients with a previous dementia diagnosis, no matter how recently they'd been diagnosed.

People from ethnic minority backgrounds are almost twice as likely to have missed diagnoses in general hospitals compared to white patients, the authors found.

And hospital staff are also less likely to recognise dementia for single patients, younger people, and people with more severe physical illnesses.

Dominic Carter, senior policy officer at the Alzheimer's Society charity, said "Hospital can be a terrifying environment for people with dementia.

"It's crucial that on admission staff are looking for signs and symptoms, so anyone affected can get the specialised support they need while they're in hospital.

"Without the right support symptoms often get worse, from our research, 90% people said their loved one with dementia became more confused in hospital.

"It's a step in the right direction that dementia is being better recognised in hospitals, but it's not good enough that a third of people with a diagnosis still aren't being picked up.

"With 850,000 people with dementia in the UK, and an estimated one million by 2021, the need for better diagnosis and tailored healthcare support has never been more pressing.

"We need to ensure that all hospital staff are trained to spot the signs of dementia and feel confident of how to best support someone in their care."

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