Management of older adults with dementia who present to emergency services with neuropsychiatric symptoms

Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2017 Dec;32(12):1233-1240. doi: 10.1002/gps.4599. Epub 2016 Oct 4.


Objective: Our aim is to evaluate if and how neuropsychiatric symptoms (NPS) of dementia influence the management and disposition of older adults who present to emergency care settings.

Methods: This is a retrospective cohort study that involved the medical and psychiatric emergency departments of a tertiary academic medical center. Participants included patients ≥65 years of age with dementia who presented between 1 February 2012 and 16 July 2014 (n = 347). Subjects with documented NPS (n = 78) were compared with a group of subjects without documented NPS (n = 78) randomly selected from the overall group with dementia. The groups with and without NPS were compared on demographic, clinical, management, and disposition characteristics.

Results: Patients with NPS were more likely to have additional diagnostic testing performed and receive psychotropic medications including benzodiazepines and antipsychotics. Significantly fewer patients with NPS (59.0%) returned to their original setting from the emergency department than patients without NPS (76.9%). Among patients with NPS, those who had a motor disturbance were more likely to receive psychotropic medications than patients who did not have a motor disturbance. Depression/dysphoria, anxiety, disinhibition, irritability/lability, and motor disturbance were all associated with transfer from medical to psychiatric emergency department. Patients with depression/dysphoria or anxiety were more likely to be psychiatrically hospitalized.

Conclusions: There are significant differences in the management of dementia with and without NPS in the emergency room setting. Developing and implementing successful methods to manage NPS in the emergency department and outpatient setting could potentially lead to less emergent psychotropic administration and reduce hospitalizations. Copyright © 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Keywords: dementia; emergency department; neuropsychiatric symptoms.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Antipsychotic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Dementia / psychology
  • Dementia / therapy*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Hospitalization / statistics & numerical data
  • Hospitals, Psychiatric / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motor Disorders / drug therapy
  • Psychotropic Drugs / therapeutic use
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Antipsychotic Agents
  • Psychotropic Drugs