Why Emergency Rooms Are the Worst Places for People with Dementia, and What You Can Do About It


A visit to the emergency room can be a scary and stressful experience for everyone, but it’s even worse for people with dementia. Unfortunately, as people age, the likelihood of an emergency room visit increases. Understanding the unique challenges that dementia patients face in an emergency room and developing a care plan ahead of time can help ensure the best outcomes with as little stress as possible. Here are some of the reasons why emergency rooms are particularly difficult for people with dementia, and what caregivers can do to deal with it.

The ER Is Fast-Paced and Can Be Confusing

A busy emergency department — at any hospital — tends to be in a state of controlled chaos at all times, which makes it difficult to navigate, even for a patient without dementia. You may have to deal with conflicting instructions, doctors and nurses coming and going unexpectedly, and frequent transfers to different rooms or departments for tests and diagnostics. For a person with dementia, it can be far too much to deal with and cause even more confusion and fear.

ER Staff Are Prepared For Everything — Except Dementia

The heavy workload and high demands that emergency room staff face often mean staff members tend to work as if all their patients have high intellectual function. This obviously poses an obstacle for those with dementia, who suffer some level of impairment. With so much going on, emergency room staff are often unable to offer the specialized care that many dementia patients require. They may be quick to resort to medication to calm down a frightened or confused patient. Research has indicated that those with dementia are likely to stay in the hospital longer than those without dementia who are experiencing a similar clinical issue.

ER Patients Need To Advocate For Themselves

Although doctors and nurses are doing their best, they need to have a patient who can self-advocate. The busy nature of the emergency room often means staff won’t know if a problem is occurring until they’re told. It’s possible that things like meals and drinks may be missed, or the staff may not notice that the patient needs assistance with eating or other basic tasks.

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