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Meeting the Emotional Needs of Hospital Patients With Dementia: A Freelisting Study With Ward Staff

Petty, Stephanie; Dening, Tom; Griffiths, Amanda; Coleston, Donna Maria


Stephanie Petty

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Clinical Professor in Dementia Research

Amanda Griffiths

Donna Maria Coleston


© The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Gerontological Society of America. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: People with dementia are vulnerable when in hospital, with serious risks to their physical and emotional well-being. Hospital staff are expected to understand and respond to the emotions of the patient; however, it is not known how this can be achieved. We provide a concise description of achievable emotion-focused care for patients with dementia. DESIGN AND METHODS: Exploratory qualitative interviews were conducted with a whole U.K. hospital ward providing dementia care, constituting 47 staff members. Staff responded to four questions using ethnographic freelisting. They listed (a) all the ways they notice the emotional distress of patients with dementia, (b) the causes of emotional distress, (c) all the ways they respond, and (d) the responses that seem to work. Cultural consensus analysis was applied. RESULTS: A single-factor solution for each question indicated a consensus approach to emotional distress. Emotional distress was noticed from agitation (Smith's saliency score, 0.418), crying (0.350), and increased mobilizing (0.238). The main causes of distress were the unfamiliar hospital environment (0.355) and not knowing what is happening (0.313). The most effective ways to respond to emotional distress required knowing the person (0.299), talking (0.283), and being with the person (0.269). DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS: The findings expand what is understood of behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia; these communicated emotional distress with well-understood causes. Prioritized ways of responding to emotional distress described person-centered care. The results offer a menu of options for providing emotionally responsive care for patients with dementia in hospital. Future research should evaluate the care described.


Petty, S., Dening, T., Griffiths, A., & Coleston, D. M. (2018). Meeting the Emotional Needs of Hospital Patients With Dementia: A Freelisting Study With Ward Staff. Gerontologist, 60(1), 155-164.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 15, 2018
Online Publication Date Dec 4, 2018
Publication Date Dec 4, 2018
Deposit Date Oct 16, 2018
Publicly Available Date Dec 5, 2019
Journal The Gerontologist
Print ISSN 0016-9013
Electronic ISSN 1758-5341
Publisher Oxford University Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 60
Issue 1
Article Number gny151
Pages 155-164
Keywords Person-centred care; Ethnography; Qualitative research methods
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced version of an article accepted for publication in The Gerontologist following peer review. The version of record Stephanie Petty, Tom Dening, Amanda Griffiths, Donna Maria Coleston; Meeting the Emotional Needs of Hospital Patients With Dementia: A Freelisting Study With Ward Staff, The Gerontologist, gny151, is available online at:


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