Appropriateness of using a symbol to identify dementia and/or delirium

Int J Evid Based Healthc. 2010 Sep;8(3):126-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1744-1609.2010.00169.x.


Aim: The main objective of this systematic review was to evaluate any published and unpublished evidence regarding the appropriateness of developing a symbol for dementia and/or delirium, which could be used in a variety of settings to indicate that a person has dementia and/or delirium.

Methods: Using the methods of the Joanna Briggs Institute, we conducted a systematic search of a wide range of databases, Internet resources and unpublished literature. Papers meeting the inclusion criteria were critically appraised by two independent reviewers. Data were extracted, using the standardised tool from the Joanna Briggs Institute, from those papers considered to be of sufficient quality. Because of significant methodological heterogeneity, no meta-analysis was possible and results are presented narratively instead.

Results: From a total of 37 retrieved papers, 18 were found to be of sufficient relevance and quality to be included in the review. There was general consensus among the literature that a symbol for dementia is appropriate in the acute care setting. It was also clear from the research that an abstract symbol, as opposed to one that explicitly attempts to depict dementia, was most acceptable to staff, people with dementia and their carers.

Conclusions: Both staff and health consumers seem to have largely positive perceptions and attitudes towards the use of a symbol for dementia. Families and carers of people with dementia are frequently concerned about their loved one wandering away and becoming lost and unable to identify themselves, and these concerns seem to outweigh any reservations they hold about the use of a symbol or some other identifier. In healthcare settings the use of symbols to indicate special needs seems well established and widely accepted. However, regarding the use of a symbol for dementia in the broader community, there remain concerns about issues such as stigmatisation and the potential for victimisation of this vulnerable population and so further research is indicated.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Caregivers / psychology
  • Color
  • Delirium*
  • Dementia*
  • Humans
  • Patient Preference
  • Symbolism*