News story

Improved recognition of dementia symptoms by health professionals

New study by PHE’s Dementia intelligence network (DIN) shows increased numbers of emergency admissions for people with dementia.

2 female hospital staff

The study finds the proportion of people with dementia being admitted to hospital in an emergency increased by 48% between 2008 to 2009 and 2012 to 2013.

The briefing focuses on the ‘reasons why people with dementia are admitted to a general hospital in an emergency’ and considers ways in which some of these could be prevented. Around a fifth (20%) of admissions related to potentially preventable acute conditions, including disease of the urinary system, pneumonia and lower respiratory infections.

The briefing recommends that although strategies to improve care for people with dementia have progressed and there is greater awareness of the symptoms, there is room for improvement including:

  • proactive management of long terms conditions
  • early intervention for acute conditions can prevent more serious progression
  • renewed slips, trips and falls initiatives, particularly targeted at older people with dementia in the community may be required
  • further investigation into provision of care for people with dementia at local level is needed

John Newton, Chief Knowledge Officer at Public Health England said:

The findings of this report are encouraging. However, consideration should be given to the traumatic and disorientating effects that emergency hospital admissions can have on people with dementia, more so in moderate to severe conditions.

If emergencies can be prevented in a fifth of cases it’s crucial that we do what we can to make that happen. Management to ensure provision of care is in place to reduce the risk of admission, in particular for people with acute conditions, could reduce these numbers.

Dr Alistair Burns, National Clinical Director for Dementia at NHS England, said:

Our aim is that every person with dementia gets the best treatment and they, their families and carers get the best high quality support following the diagnosis.

Pockets of the country are making exceptional progress by reshaping the services available for patients post-diagnosis but we would like to see support improved everywhere. The provision of these services will inevitably help reduce unavoidable admissions into hospital for people with dementia.

Following our drive to boost diagnosis rates we will now be working hard with local GPs, acute trusts, community service providers and care homes to ensure services are available and efficient when patients need them.

George McNamara, Head of Policy at Alzheimer’s Society, said:

Hospitals can be particularly distressing environments for people with dementia, who stay too long and are more likely to be readmitted than people without the condition. With a fifth of emergency admissions avoidable, we need to focus on improving the accessibility to and quality of care in the community. In particular, there needs to be an emphasis on falls prevention for vulnerable people given the high number of injuries to the head, hip and thigh.

We also need to see all hospitals become dementia friendly, with all staff sufficiently trained to understand and respond to the needs of people with dementia.

Published 21 July 2015