An alarming new study has found that nearly 40 per cent of all hospital patients over the age of 65 have a cognitive impairment.
A cognitive impairment often impacts a person’s memory, as well as their way of understanding, thinking, and communicating.
While it isn’t an illness as such, cognitive impairment can be associated with many short- and long-term effects including infections, pneumonia, dementia and strokes.
The new research by the Dementia Care in Hospitals Program supports calls for the screening of all patients 65 and over in acute care. This means that if you end up in hospital for a hip replacement surgery, for example, you could be required to be tested for cognitive impairment before the surgery takes place.
Associate Professor Mark Yates, Ballarat Health Service’s Geriatrician, said that early detection could actually help people recover quicker when they eventually leave hospital.
“If we can identify cognitive impairment early in hospital patients, then staff and family carers can be better informed and supported to provide tailored care that could lead to improved health outcomes for the patient,” Yates said.
Yates added that patients over the age of 65 who suffer from cognitive impairment are three times more likely to be impacted by hospital-acquired complications. The research has also found that there’s often a bigger risk of preventable injury to hospital patients with a cognitive impairment.
According to Dementia Australia CEO Maree McCabe, “They experience more complications, including urinary tract infections, pneumonia, delirium and pressure ulcers.
“Further, the average length of stay in hospital for someone with dementia can be significantly greater than the general population.”
The Dementia Care in Hospitals Program has been implemented at four of Australia’s leading hospitals, and focuses on educating both clinical and domestic staff so they have a better understanding of how a hospital visit can impact someone with cognitive impairment or dementia.
Staff now screen all new inpatients and pre-admission patients over 65 by testing their memory and thinking. They also have access to a bedside alert known as the Cognitive Impairment Identifier (CII).
If tests show signs of memory loss or trouble with thinking, staff can use the CII to inform other staff of their patient’s conditions and how they can tailor their care to fit their needs.
The introduction of the program has boosted staff confidence when it comes to caring for these patients and providing them with the relevant support.