Dementia becomes an emergency 1.4 million times a year

Aug. 2, 2023
Accidents and behavioral disturbances lead the list of reasons for emergency department visits – suggesting need for better caregiver support to prevent crises.

1.4 million times a year, people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia end up in emergency care, a new study shows.

Together, they make up nearly 7% of all emergency visits for any reason by people over age 65, according to a University of Michigan team’s findings published in JAMA Neurology.

And compared with their peers who don’t have dementia, these patients have twice the rate of seeking emergency care after an accident or a behavioral or mental health crisis, the researchers show.

With about 6 million Americans currently estimated to have dementia, the study suggests there’s a lot of opportunity to prevent future emergency visits by better supporting dementia caregivers, thereby, the researchers say.

Emergency department patients with dementia received antipsychotic medications at more than twice the rate as other emergency patients over age 65 during their visit, the study shows. Such drugs, often used to sedate people with dementia and calm their behavioral symptoms, can carry major risks if used long-term – including increasing the risk of fall accidents and death as highlighted in warnings from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Long after the emergency has ended, the concern is that these newly started antipsychotic and sedative medications in could then continue to be prescribed long-term, putting patients with dementia at further risk, said Gerlach.

The study also adds evidence that older adults with dementia may be treated differently in the emergency department. People with dementia were much more likely than those without to receive a urine test or a CT scan of their head.

The data for the study came from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and include information on people over 65 no matter what form of healthcare coverage they had.  

Michigan Medicine release

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