Hospitals miss dementia even when already diagnosed

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Dementia is being missed by hospital doctors in four in ten cases, research shows.

The study by University College London Hospital found medical staff are routinely treating patients without realising that they had been diagnosed with dementia.

Researchers said the failure to properly record their illness meant vulnerable elderly people were being discharged from hospital with instructions to take crucial medication, without medics realising that they were likely to be suffering from memory problems.

They said too many pensioners were being admitted to hospital with physical health problems, without proper records being kept of other diagnoses like dementia which could affect them profoundly.

The research examined 138,455 hospital admissions from 21,387 people between 2008 and 2016, including 37,329 admissions of 8,246 people who had known dementia before general hospital admission.

FAQ | Dementia

What is dementia?

Dementia is a loose term used to describe different degenerative disorders that trigger a gradual loss of brain function, including:

  • memory loss
  • thinking speed
  • mental agility
  • language
  • understanding
  • judgement

Is it the same as Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia.

Who gets it?

One in three people over 65 will develop dementia, and two-thirds of people with dementia are women.

Is there a cure?

Most types of dementia can’t be cured, but if it is detected early there are ways to slow it down and maintain mental function.

Source: NHS

Overall, hospitals recognised dementia in 63.3 per cent of inpatients who previously had a dementia diagnosis. Cases were more likely to be missed if patients did not have a partner and among those with severe physical illnesesses and those from ethnic minority backgrounds.

At the start of the study, in 2008, just 48.7 per cent of dementia cases were detected, with rates rising over the eight year period.

Hospital records need to accurately reflect the patient’s condition so that doctors can tailor their care accordinglyDr Andrew Sommerlad, lead author

Researchers said the findings were likely to be an underestimate, as they only included cases where the patients had previously received a diagnosis.

Around 850,000 people in the UK are estimated to suffer from dementia, but one in three patients are undiagnosed. Researchers identified people who had been¬†diagnosed with dementia¬†in South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust memory clinics, and subsequently admitted to a general hospital. The researchers examined whether dementia was one of the diagnoses on the patient’s hospital discharge summary.

The study, published in¬†Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, found dementia was almost twice as likely to be missed in those of ethnic minority backgrounds compared to white patients.

In numbers¬†| Dementia and Alzheimer’s


Estimated number of people in the UK with dementia


Estimated number of people in the UK with Alzheimer’s disease

Over 65s

Dementia mainly affects people over the age of 65. One in 14 people in this age group have dementia

Under 65s

However, dementia can affect younger people too. There are 42,000 people in the UK under the age of 65 with dementia

1 million

Estimated number of people expected to be living with dementia in the UK by 2021

Source:¬†Alzheimer’s Society


Lead author Dr Andrew Sommerlad (UCL Psychiatry) said better sharing of health records between health care providers could help reduce missed diagnoses and improve care for the vulnerable.

“People with dementia are more likely to be admitted to general hospitals for other illnesses, partly due to difficulties taking care of themselves – and once they’re in hospital, those with dementia tend to have longer stays and face more complications.

‚ÄúHospital records need to accurately reflect the patient’s condition so that doctors can tailor their care accordingly,” he said.

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