Underrecognition and Undertreatment of Dementia in Italian Nursing Homes

J Am Med Dir Assoc. 2012 Oct;13(8):759.e7-13. doi: 10.1016/j.jamda.2012.05.015. Epub 2012 Jun 23.


Objective: To determine the prevalence of dementia diagnoses and the use of antidementia drugs in a cohort of Italian older nursing home (NH) residents.

Design: Cross-sectional study.

Setting: The NH residents participating in 2 studies: the U.L.I.S.S.E. study and the Umbria Region survey.

Participants: A total of 2215 nursing home residents.

Measurement: Each resident underwent a comprehensive geriatric assessment at baseline by means of the RAI MDS 2.0. Dementia diagnosis was based on ICD-9 codes.

Results: The prevalence of dementia diagnosis according to ICD-9 codes was 50.7% (n = 1123), whereas 312 subjects had cognitive impairment with a cognitive performance scale score ≥3 without a diagnosis of dementia. Only 56 NH residents were treated (5% of the sample) and the main drugs used were cholinesterase inhibitor, whereas only 1 subject was treated with memantine. Limiting our analysis to patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease, who are those reimbursed by the public health care system for receiving antidementia drugs, the percentage rose to 11.3%.

Conclusion: These findings demonstrate a high rate of underdiagnosis and undertreatment of dementia in Italian NH residents. Potential explanations include the lack of systematic assessment of cognitive functions, the limitations to antidementia drug reimbursement, the complexity of the reimbursement procedure itself, and the high prevalence of patients with severe dementia. Older NH residents still lack proper access to state-of-the-art diagnosis and treatment for a devastating condition such as dementia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cholinesterase Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Dementia / diagnosis*
  • Dementia / drug therapy*
  • Dementia / epidemiology
  • Diagnostic Errors*
  • Female
  • Geriatric Assessment
  • Humans
  • Italy / epidemiology
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Memantine / therapeutic use
  • Nursing Homes*


  • Cholinesterase Inhibitors
  • Memantine