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Dementia causes 1.4M emergency room visits a year, study shows

A new study found that people with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia make up about 7% of all emergency room visits from people 65 and older. File Photo by Romy/Pixabay
A new study found that people with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia make up about 7% of all emergency room visits from people 65 and older. File Photo by Romy/Pixabay

July 24 (UPI) -- Alzheimer's disease and other dementia-related illnesses are the cause of an estimated 1.4 million trips to the emergency room every year, according to a study published Monday.

The University of Michigan research, published in JAMA Neurology, found that people with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia make up about 7% of all emergency room visits from people 65 and older.

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The study used data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, which was conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Emergency departments are often not the right place to manage these behaviors," Lauren B. Gerlach, the lead author of the study, said in a statement. "We really need to do better to support caregivers so there are options other than seeking emergency care."

Dementia is marked by challenges thinking, remembering and reasoning, according to the National Institute on Aging. The disease can be disruptive to everyday life and it creates difficulties in controlling emotions. A person's personality may also drastically change.

Gerlach added that the behavioral aspects of dementia, such as anxiety, agitation and trouble sleeping, are the symptoms that make the disease most difficult to care for.

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There are an estimated 6 million people in the United States with dementia. About one-third of all people over the age of 85 may have a form of dementia.

The Michigan Medicine study also found that there is a likely disparity in the way that dementia patients are treated in emergency care. People with dementia are more likely to be given urine tests or a CT scan in the emergency department.

"Difficulty in the ability of patients with dementia to communicate their symptoms verbally can make it challenging to distinguish what is causing their symptoms," Gerlach said.

The study recommends an increase in geriatric-focused emergency departments to accommodate patients with dementia, which are not widely accessible across the United States.

Only about 20% of people between ages 65 and 80 were screened in the past year to check for any decline in thinking and memory skills, according to a recent poll from the University of Michigan.

A study published last week in The Lancet found hearing loss may contribute to cognitive decline.

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