Beyond imaging: 3 ways radiologists can improve care for patients with dementia

Radiologists should expect to see more dementia cases in the near future, but in order to properly care for these patients they must take steps to better understand the condition.

That’s according to two researchers from Indiana University’s School of Medicine, who suggested radiologists look beyond the use of imaging to diagnose patients with dementia and instead gain a wider understanding of the complex brain condition.

“Although the prospects of increasing rates of dementia and growing number of patients with dementia are daunting, they also create opportunities for enhanced quality of care,” Lily K. Wolf and Richard B. Gunderman wrote in the American Journal of Roentgenology. “By taking the time to understand dementia and the basic principles of effective dementia care, radiology personnel can add an additional dimension of excellence to the care they provide such patients and caregivers.”

Below are three ways radiologists can improve care for those with dementia:

1. Focus on communication

Radiologists should try to use common words, speak in short and slow sentences, use gestures, eliminate distractions and allow patients time to respond to questions. Often patients are trying to follow along, but have a difficult time doing so.

Exercising patience is also key, the authors wrote. Physicians should expect to repeat themselves multiple times and be able to work through frequent misunderstandings.

Unusual behavior is common for these patients; a visit to a new radiology department might elicit anxiety and frustration. To help this, radiologists should explain what they are doing before touching a patient, as they would with anyone they are examining.

2. Safety should be a main concern

Safety is especially important when dealing with these patients, the authors wrote. Radiology staff should make sure there are no hazards that might cause falls such as floor mats, poor lighting and large imaging equipment. 

A relative or familiar face should be with a dementia patient during their visit. Radiologists must determine if a patient has the ability to make decisions or if there is a policy in place regarding which medical tests or procedures should or shouldn’t be completed.

In some cases, a staff member may be asked to perform advanced imaging or place a feeding tube against a patient’s wishes; these situations should be discussed with the referring clinician prior to talking with the patient’s caregiver.

3. Show empathy to caregivers

Dementia often has a significant impact on those who are caring for the patient, and radiologists should have that in the back of their mind.

Often, these caregivers are exhausted, under financial stress and on duty 24 hours a day, the authors noted. Simple acts such as acknowledging the job a caregiver is doing or offering compassion and hospitality can go a long way.

Overall, the authors believe radiologists can be doing a lot more to influence dementia patient care.

“As leaders in their departments, radiologists have a responsibility to make sure that their colleagues (technologists, nurses, receptionists, radiology trainees and so on) possess a sound understanding of the epidemiology and common forms of dementia, the special challenges and opportunities dementias present in the care of patients and families, and the ways in which the patient experience in radiology can be made safer and more hospitable,” the authors concluded.