Dementia Patients Dumped From Hospital Emergency Rooms

Have you tried to have your elderly parent with dementia or any health issue admitted to the hospital and the hospital refused? Dementia patients dumped from hospital emergency rooms is becoming more common as getting care for elderly parents is becoming more difficult. A diagnosis of dementia plus the re-hospitalization penalties makes being admitted to a hospital for treatment nearly impossible for persons over the age of 65.

Dementia Patients Are Refused Treatment

On multiple occasions, I have had clients sent to the emergency room for delusional and unsafe behavior. Both individuals had a diagnosis of dementia. Both times a medication review was requested because in addition to the diagnosed urinary tract infections both individuals exhibited generally unsafe and agitated behaviors. Both dementia patients were dumped from the hospital emergency room back to their care communities without treatment. 

One client attempted to stab a caregiver in the leg with a knife, another physically harmed a family member. With dementia, these behaviors are more common than one might expect. The healthcare system is unprepared to treat elderly with dementia and mental illness. The easier tactic is to dump thest patients back on family caregivers who are unprepared to provide care. 

In prior times, geriatric psychiatry units would accept individuals with dementia for medication management that is much better implemented in a more controlled environment. Medication management means that the present prescribed medications are reviewed in addition to other medications that may be helpful in managing agitated or unsafe behaviors. Today dementia patients are dumped from emergency rooms for being seen as problematic. 

Hospitals Refuse Treatment

Imagine being a person with dementia who feels and acts like you are out of your mind and the medical profession refuses to help you. 

Today, due to insurance regulations, only individuals with mental health diagnoses may be admitted for treatment into a geriatric psychiatry unit. Individuals diagnosed with dementia who are exhibiting mental distress do not qualify for treatment under health insurance in a geriatric psychiatry unit. 

Mental Health Diagnoses and Dementia Are a Red Flag

One of the challenges in going back through an individual’s health history, especially an older adult, is that a mental health diagnosis was viewed as a negative stigma. Thus, even if an older adult of today had mental health issues in their younger years, this rarely has been diagnosed, let along placed as a diagnosis in a medical chart. This is the question you will be asked if you attempt to have a loved one placed in a geriatric psychiatric unit – is there a diagnosis related to mental health?

The lesson: if anyone in your family experiences challenges due to mental health, have the diagnoses placed in the medical chart. If not, and this person has a diagnosis of dementia in later years, it may be difficult to receive treatment.

Being Denied Treatment for Behaviors Related to Dementia

Medical treatment for behaviors is is a present challenge and a challenge for the future as the number of individuals diagnosed with dementia increases and behavioral challenges occur. If the medical profession refuses to treat demented individuals with behaviors who will?

Who in the insurance industry or the government decided that persons diagnosed with dementia should be DENIED TREATMENT? Who in the insurance industry or the government decided that behaviors of persons with dementia should NOT be treatable for geriatric psychiatry benefits using a health insurance benefit?

The reality is that not all medical professionals working in hospitals — or even primary care physicians — are trained to care for persons diagnosed with dementia. In one of the emergency room visits, the emergency room physician and the social worker told me, “we’re not equipped to deal with this type of situation (dementia).”  Being ill-equipped as a medical provider should not place the care of elderly adults at risk. Dementia patients dumped from emergency rooms is a tragedy. 

Gaps in Healthcare Treatment

If medical professionals, especially in hospital emergency rooms, are not equipped to treat and respond to individuals diagnosed with dementia what does this say of the gap in healthcare today and in the future?

If the medical profession and insurance companies fail to pay attention to this segment of the population today, how will the ever-increasing number of individuals yet to be diagnosed in the future with dementia receive treatment?

Will individuals diagnosed with dementia be dumped out of hospitals into the streets or into the homes of loved ones who are even less prepared to care for their family members?

A case manager at another hospital told a client that he needed to take his father home and find a care community because the hospital was unsuccessful in making this transition for the family. Again, if medical professionals in a hospital are not successful in finding a community placement for an individual, how can the hospital expect a family member with fewer skills and knowledge to be successful? Dementia patients dumped from hospitals are placed back into the care of family caregivers who don’t know how to manage care. 

Professionals with the skill, background, and ability to work with individuals diagnosed with dementia and to advise their families represent a specialty niche of professionals within the aging industry. If you are a person diagnosed with dementia or a family member seek out assistance rather than having your loved one being treated with less than dignity and caring. Plan ahead for expected and unexpected situations.

If you are interested in planning for your care or the care of a loved one, pick up a copy of my book, The Caregiving Trap: Solutions for Life’s Unexpected Changes.


About Pamela Wilson

PAMELA D. WILSON, MS, BS/BA, NCG, CSA helps caregivers and aging adults solve caregiving problems and manage caregiving needs through online programs, live support groups, and an extensive caregiving library that includes articles, podcasts, videos, and webinars.

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