A dementia carer holds the hand of a patient. Photograph: Sarah Lee/GuardianThe amount of time that people with dementia spend in hospital should be reduced, a report said today.
The Alzheimer’s Society, which commissioned the report, warned that long spells in hospital had an adverse effect on the health of many patients.
It urged the NHS to cut the average hospital stay for dementia patients by one week, saving at least £80m a year.
It said the specific needs of people with dementia were often overlooked and that many patients ended up malnourished and dehydrated.
Dementia patients were also highly likely to be discharged to care homes after spending time in hospital rather than being returned to their own homes, the report said.
Its findings showed that 60% went into hospital from their own homes, but only 36% returned to them afterwards.
The research also revealed that a quarter of hospital beds were occupied by people aged over 65 with dementia at any one time.
Almost half (47%) of carers said being in hospital had a “significant negative effect on the general physical health of the person with dementia that was not a direct result of the medical condition”.
Complaints included patients being confined to their beds and not being allowed to walk, weight loss, dehydration, pressure sores and incontinence.
One carer described how a relative went from having “a happy, carefree personality to [being] a virtual drone”.
Andrew Chidgey, the head of policy and public affairs at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Typically, what we see is that people are deteriorating while in hospital because they are becoming more confused, disorientated, distressed and, in some cases, agitated.
“This means they are becoming dehydrated, malnourished, their dementia is becoming worse and they are taking far longer to recover from whatever they went into hospital for.”
The study came after a review, commissioned by the Department of Health, found that around 144,000 people with dementia were wrongly prescribed anti-psychotic drugs, costing an estimated 1,800 lives each year.
Neil Hunt, the chief executive of the society, described that as “a disgraceful situation”.
“The NHS is not facing up to the scale of this challenge, and not equipping its staff properly for the scale of the problem ahead,” he said.
Katherine Murphy, the director of the Patients’ Association, said the survey confirmed fears of a failure in the hospital care of elderly patients.
“Whether it’s dementia, a stroke or a broken hip that brings them into hospital, elderly patients and their relatives face the very real fear that their care will be sub-standard,” she said.
“The findings in this report are scandalous. Not enough help with eating. Not enough help with drinking. Not enough help with personal hygiene. Not enough help with continence.
“There is now an overwhelming amount of evidence that elderly patients are being neglected in hospitals across the NHS.”
The shadow health minister, Stephen O’Brien, claimed the findings showed that the government had failed to act on its promise to reform the care system.