Elderly people’s memory problems can easily be tested at hospital

Submitted on Thu, 03/22/2018 - 13:19

A recent study by the University of Tampere found that simple tests can detect the memory problems and attention deficit of elderly hospital patients.

The memory problems or attention deficit of elderly patients often go unnoticed during hospital treatment. However, such problems hamper functional ability and slow down recovery from other illnesses.

The study found that memory lapses and the onset of confusion can be detected by quick and easy-to-use tests, such as a six-point memory screening or by asking the patient to list the names of months backwards.

The study was conducted at Tampere University Hospital (Tays) and included 151 patients who were older than 70 years. Every third of them turned out to have either a memory function disorder or attention disturbance that had gone undetected during their stay at the hospital.

Thirty patients, i.e. twenty per cent of the sample, were diagnosed with attention disturbance, but less than half of them had a mention of such problems in their case history.

“Because the tests are quick and easy to use, they are well suited for screening dementia and delirium in the busy hospital environment,” says Esa Jämsen, professor of geriatrics (fixed-term) at the University of Tampere.

“Such tests should be routinely used because it is hard to diagnose memory problems and attention disturbance with other methods. The same applies to many further geriatric problems as only the clearest cases are visible on the surface,” Jämsen explains.

“The most common geriatric problems should be easily screened so that appropriate treatment can be planned. We tested several tools and these two turned out to be the most efficient,” Jämsen says.

The research group will next investigate how fragile and vulnerable old people in need of geriatric assessment could be identified at the start of hospitalisation.

“Our goal is to introduce different screening methods into conventional care,” Jämsen says.

A few years ago, a geriatric unit was set up at Tampere University Hospital in order to facilitate addressing the specific needs of elderly patients. Tays is a pioneer because there are no similar activities in other university hospitals and only in few central hospitals in Finland.

Thanks to the geriatric unit, it has been easier to tackle elderly patients’ memory problems, confusion, and undernutrition.

“Geriatrics in general is becoming a more acute and hospital-centred speciality. It has gained popularity among young doctors and is the fifth most popular specialty in Tampere among specialising doctors,” Jämsen says and believes that his predecessor, Professor of Geriatrics Jaakko Valvanne had a major impact on this trend.

Kangas T, Hämäläinen R, Valvanne J, Jämsen E.: Muistin ja tarkkaavaisuuden häiriöiden seulonta sairaalassa on aiheellista. Suomen Lääkärilehti 11/2018 (in Finnish). Suomen Lääkärilehti is a journal published by the Finnish Medical Association.

For further information, please contact:
Professor of Geriatrics (fixed-term), Chief Physician Esa Jämsen, tel. +358 50 318 6274, esa.jamsen@uta.fi