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Cognitive Impairment among Older Adults in the Emergency Department

Creative Commons 'BY-NC' version 4.0 license

Background: Within the next 30 years, the number of visits older adults will make to emergency departments (EDs) is expected to double from 16 million, or 14% of all visits, to 34 million and comprise nearly a quarter of all visits.

Objective: The objectives of this study were to determine prevalence rates of cognitive impairment among older adults in the ED and to identify associations, if any, between environmental factors unique to the ED and rates of cognitive impairment.

Methods: A cross-sectional observational study of adults 65 and older admitted to the ED of a large, urban, tertiary academic health center was conducted between September 2007 and May 2008. Patients were screened for cognitive impairment in orientation, recall and executive function using the Six-Item Screen (SIS) and the CLOX1, clock drawing task. Cognitive impairment among this ED population was assessed and both patient demographics and ED characteristics (crowding, triage time, location of assessment, triage class) were compared through adjusted generalized linear models.

Results: Forty-two percent (350/829) of elderly patients presented with deficits in orientation and recall as assessed by the SIS. An additional 36% of elderly patients with no impairment in orientation or recall had deficits in executive function as assessed by the CLOX1. In full model adjusted analyses patients were more likely to screen deficits in orientation and recall (SIS) if they were 85 years or older (Relative Risk [RR]=1.63, 95% Confidence Interval [95% CI]=1.3-2.07), black (RR=1.85, 95% CI=1.5-2.4) and male (RR=1.42, 95% CI=1.2-1.7). Only age was significantly associated with executive functioning deficits in the ED screened using the clock drawing task (CLOX1) (75-84 years: RR=1.35, 95% CI= 1.2-1.6; 85+ years: RR=1.69, 95% CI= 1.5-2.0).

Conclusion: These findings have several implications for patients seen in the ED. The SIS coupled with a clock drawing task (CLOX1) provide a rapid and simple method for assessing and documenting cognition when lengthier assessment tools are not feasible and add to the literature on the use of these tools in the ED. Further research on provider use of these tools and potential implication for quality improvement is needed. [West J Emerg Med. 2011; 12(1):56-62.]

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