University of Cambridge logo
PHG report cover image

Visual identifiers in the care of people with dementia

Exploring the ethical and legal issues including questions around patient autonomy, consent, stigma, inadvertent disclosure, and privacy.

Report

Visual identifiers in the care of people with dementia, addresses the ethical and legal issues affecting the use of visual identifiers in hospitals, exploring issues such as patient autonomy, consent, stigma, inadvertent disclosure, and privacy.

Dementia is a syndrome – usually of a chronic or progressive nature – in which there is deterioration in cognitive function beyond what might be expected from normal ageing.

People with dementia can have difficulties in communicating their needs and wishes, need help with eating and other basic activities, and may walk about (often referred to as ‘wandering’).

Up to a half of acute care hospital beds may be occupied by people with dementia who require treatment for other, frequently unrelated, conditions. The high number and increasing multimorbidity of patients with dementia pose challenges for optimal care which must be addressed as a matter of priority.

Most hospitals use some form of visual identifier to alert staff that a patient has dementia, so that care can be tailored to their needs. However, there is no national standard as to what, when and how visual identifiers should be applied, their use is inconsistent, and there is no formal evaluation of visual identification tools or the processes for their use.

Visual identifiers in the care of people with dementia, is the result of PHG Foundation work for the DA VINCI (Developing a visual identification system for people with cognitive impairment in institutional settings) project. The DA VINCI project, led by The Healthcare Improvement Studies Institute (THIS Institute) aims to undertake a programme of work to inform, design, evaluate and (if appropriate) pilot a visual identification system for people with dementia co-designed with staff, patients and carers.

Informed by our ethical and legal analyses, we have devised a set of principles to help guide the development and implementation of visual identification systems in dementia care. These principles will be used by the THIS Institute project team to inform further phases of research, including potentially the development and pilot of a novel visual identification system.

Download Key principles for the development and implementation of visual identification systems

Download the full report Visual identifiers in the care of people with dementia

By Tanya Brigden, Colin Mitchell, Johan Ordish and Alison Hall

This research was funded by The Healthcare Improvement Studies Institute (THIS Institute), University of Cambridge. 

THIS Institute is supported by the Health Foundation, an independent charity committed to bringing about better health and healthcare for people in the UK.

Genomics and policy newsletter

Sign up