Dementia and delirium in the ER: Providing better care for older patients

2 min
November 04, 2022
AARP and GEDC videos provide action steps for providers, patients and family caregivers to better identify and manage issues related to brain health in the emergency room

WASHINGTON – AARP and the Geriatric Emergency Department Collaborative (GEDC) have teamed up to release two short educational videos about dementia care and the risks of delirium, or sudden confusion, in the emergency room.

“Dementia and delirium may not be obvious in older adults but can often complicate a patient’s care plan in an emergency room setting,” said Sarah Lenz Lock, AARP SVP of brain health policy and executive director of the Global Council on Brain Health. “It is our hope that these videos can be a resource for our already overworked healthcare heroes by providing the signs of potential cognitive impairment and suggestions for avoiding dementia-related problems during treatment. We also want caregivers to feel empowered to work with healthcare providers and advocate for best practices in the ER. Caregivers are not just visitors.”

In advance of the busy winter months that can challenge hospital ER capacity, the videos offer practical recommendations for caregivers and healthcare providers.

“These videos identify simple action steps to show how to reduce risks to brain health and avoid serious complications,” said Dr. Kevin Biese, Co-Principal Investigator of GEDC. “Providing treatment with a dementia or delirium diagnosis in mind can help protect a patient’s brain health and improve medical outcomes.”

When treating a patient who may have cognitive impairment, AARP and GEDC recommend healthcare providers engage the patient directly while allowing time for a response. Ask short, simple questions, and take time to explain what is going to happen. Additional information can be found in the video, “Dementia in the ED: Providing better care for older ED patients.”

Delirium is a sudden change in mental status, or sudden confusion, which often affects older adults following hospital admission or surgery. According to research from the Global Council on Brain Health, delirium is the most common surgical complication for people 65-plus.

The severity of delirium can be decreased, or even prevented, with simple interventions outlined by the Global Council on Brain Health[1]  The video, “Delirium in the Emergency Department: Serious, costly, and potentially deadly,” incorporates those recommendations and says involving the patient’s caregiver, asking important questions and expanding assessments beyond an obvious diagnosis can help prevent readmissions and improve patient outcomes.

West Health and The John A. Hartford Foundation are joining with AARP and GEDC to share the videos, encouraging health systems to implement vital geriatric training.

“We are thrilled to see the realization of these new resources that may benefit older adults and their families during a time of acute medical need,” said Zia Agha, Chief Medical Officer of West Health. “In collaborating with AARP, the Geriatric Emergency Department Collaborative is better able to deliver on our shared vision of improved quality care for older adults.”

“Recognizing and appropriately addressing older adults’ mentation, or memory and mental status, is a key factor in ensuring that health systems are age-friendly and delivering optimal care,” said Rani Snyder, Vice President of Program, The John A. Hartford Foundation. “The goal of these videos is to reduce harm and assist clinicians, patients and family caregivers alike.”

Visit AARP’s website to find additional resources about dementia and delirium.


Mark B. McClellan, MD, PhD
Board Member, West Health Institute
Board Member, West Health Policy Center