2.0 Priorities: Detection

GEAR 2.0 Priorities – Detection of People with Dementia in the ED

Older adults use the emergency department (ED) as an important source of acute medical care, making 20 million visits annually. People with dementia are twice as likely to use the ED and 1.5 times more likely to have an avoidable visit. When in the ED, they often struggle with the fast-paced setting and may not be able to give a complete medical history. These challenges, along with other adverse events, put patients with dementia at greater risk for poor outcomes.

Three decades of research has shown that dementia is under-recognized in emergency departments, despite a proliferation of screening tools. Under-recognition of dementia in the ED leads to under-recognition in inpatient services, which has broad-reaching consequences, such as longer hospital stays, lower patient satisfaction, accelerated cognitive declines, and increased health care costs. Yet, little research has explored how to improve emergency clinical care for people with dementia.


Emergency care for older adults is suboptimal, and care is especially poor for older adults with dementia, even though these adults seek ED-based care more regularly than matched controls. ED identification of people living with dementia (PLWD) is particularly poor. Better detection of dementia may improve the ED staff’s ability to implement interventions that can reduce the rate of cognitive decline and improve care coordination and patient safety.

The GEAR Detection Work Group (WG) examined the potential role of the ED in dementia detection. Based on group consensus, it focused its literature review by:

  1. replacing age cutoffs with exclusion of children in order to include all affected adult populations and
  2. conceptualizing the ED’s role as screening for rather than diagnosing dementia.
The Detection WG identified two Patient Intervention Comparison Outcomes (PICO) questions to guide their literature review of publications related to detection of dementia in ED settings.
  • PICO-1: How can the ED best identify cognitive impairment? (Best in terms of sensitivity or reliability, etc.) Are there differences by race or ethnicity?
  • PICO-2: Are there pragmatic cognitive impairment screening tools that can identify patients at risk of dementia? (Pragmatic in terms of ease of use, training, quickness to complete, etc.)

Top Research Priority Areas

The top voted detection research priority areas ranked during the 2021 GEAR 2.0 Consensus Conference based on the scoping reviews are as follows: