Dementia-friendly interventions to improve the care of people living with dementia admitted to hospitals: a realist review

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Objectives: To identify features of programmes and approaches to make healthcare delivery in secondary healthcare settings more dementia friendly, providing a context-relevant understanding of how interventions achieve outcomes for people living with dementia.

Design: A realist review conducted in three phases (1) stakeholder interviews and scoping of the literature to develop an initial programme theory for providing effective dementia care; (2) structured retrieval and extraction of evidence; (3) analysis and synthesis to build and refine the programme theory.

Data sources: PubMed, CINAHL, Cochrane Library, NHS Evidence, Scopus, grey literature.

Eligibility criteria: Studies reporting interventions and approaches to make hospital environments more dementia friendly. Studies not reporting patient outcomes or contributing to the programme theory were excluded.

Results: Phase 1 combined findings from 15 stakeholder interviews and 22 publications to develop candidate programme theories. Phases 2 and 3 identified and synthesised evidence from 28 publications. Prominent context-mechanism-outcome configurations were identified to explain what supported dementia-friendly healthcare in acute settings. Staff capacity to understand the behaviours of people living with dementia as communication of an unmet need, combined with a recognition and valuing of their role in their care prompted changes to care practices. Endorsement from senior management gave staff confidence and permission to adapt working practices to provide good dementia care. Key contextual factors were the availability of staff and an alignment of ward priorities to value person-centred care approaches. Preoccupation with risk
generated responses that were likely to restrict patient choice and increase their distress.

Conclusions: This review suggests strategies such as dementia awareness training alone will not improve dementia care or outcomes for patients with dementia. Instead, how staff are supported to implement learning and resources by senior team members with dementia expertise is a key component for improving care practices and patient outcomes.
PROSPERO Trial Registration Number: CRD42015017562
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere015257
JournalBMJ Open
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jul 2017


  • People living with dementia, hospitals, dementia, realist review, dementia friendly


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