Impact of dementia special care units for short-stay nursing home patients

Amanda C. Chen, Arnold M. Epstein, Karen E. Joynt Maddox, David C. Grabowski, E. John Orav, Michael L. Barnett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Improving quality of care provided to short-stay patients with dementia in nursing homes is a policy priority. However, it is unknown whether dementia-focused care strategies are associated with improved clinical outcomes or lower utilization and costs for short-stay dementia patients. Methods: We performed a national survey of nursing home administrators in 2020–2021, asking about the presence of three dementia-focused care services used for their short-stay patients: (1) a dementia care unit, (2) cognitive deficiency training for staff, and (3) dementia-specific occupational therapy. Using Medicare claims, we identified short-stay episodes for beneficiaries residing in surveyed skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) with and without dementia. We compared clinical, cost, and utilization outcomes for dementia patients in SNFs, which did and did not offer dementia-focused care services. As a counterfactual control, we compared these differences to those for non-dementia patients in the same facilities. Our primary quantity of interest was an interaction term between a patients' dementia status and the presence of a dementia-focused care tool. Results: The study population included 102,860 Medicare episodes of care from 377 SNF survey respondents in 2018–2019. In adjusted comparisons of the interaction between dementia status and the presence of each dementia-focused care tool, dementia care units were associated with a 1.5-day increase in healthy days at home in the 90 days following discharge (p = 0.01) and a 3.1% decrease in the likelihood of a subsequent SNF admission (p = 0.001). Cognitive deficiency training was also associated with a 2.0% increase in antipsychotics (p = 0.03), whereas dementia-specific occupational therapy was associated with a 1.2% increase in falls (p = 0.01) per patient episode. Conclusions: Self-reported use of dementia care units for short-stay patients was associated with modestly better performance in some, but not all, outcome measures. This provides hypothesis-generating evidence that dementia care units could be a promising mechanism to improve care delivery in nursing homes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)767-777
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of the American Geriatrics Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2024


  • dementia
  • nursing home
  • short-stay patients


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