Clinical care of persons with dementia in the emergency department: a review of the literature and agenda for research

J Am Geriatr Soc. 2012 Sep;60(9):1742-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.2012.04108.x.


The segment of older adults who present to the emergency department (ED) with cognitive impairment ranges from 21% to 40%. Difficulties inherent in the chaotic ED setting combined with dementia may result in a number of unwanted clinical outcomes, but strategies to minimize these outcomes are lacking. A review of the literature was conducted to examine the practices undertaken in the care of persons with dementia (PWD) specific to the ED setting. PubMed and Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature were searched for published articles specific to the care of PWD provided in the ED. All English-language articles were reviewed; editorials and reflective journals were excluded. Seven articles ultimately met inclusion criteria; all provided Level 7 evidence: narrative review or opinions from authorities. The articles recommended clinical practices that can be categorized into five themes: assessment of cognitive impairment, dementia communication strategies, avoidance of adverse events, alterations to the physical environment, and education of ED staff. Many recommendations are extrapolated from residential care settings. Review results indicate that there is minimal guidance for the care of PWD specific to the ED setting. There are no empirical studies of the care (assessment, interventions) of PWD in the ED. The existing (Level 7) recommendations lack a research base to support their effectiveness or adoption as evidence-based practice. There is a significant opportunity for research to identify and test ways to meet the needs of PWD in the ED to ensure a safe visit, accurate diagnosis, and prudent transfer to the most appropriate level of care.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Dementia / nursing*
  • Emergency Nursing*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Humans