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J Emerg Med. 2009 Jul;37(1):8-12. Epub 2007 Dec 18.

The impact of routine cognitive screening by using the clock drawing task in the evaluation of elderly patients in the emergency department.

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  • 1St. Luke's Emergency Medicine Residency, St. Luke's Hospital, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, USA.


The prevalence of cognitive impairment, as reflected by failure to correctly perform a clock drawing task, in elderly Emergency Department (ED) patients was assessed. Additionally, we evaluated whether primary care provider notification of cognitive impairment spurred further cognitive evaluation. The clock drawing task was administered to a convenience sample of 100 elderly, English-speaking subjects presenting for reasons other than altered mentation at a community hospital ED. Primary care providers were contacted regarding abnormal clock drawing task results immediately and again after 2 months to determine if there was further evaluation of cognition. Of the 100 subjects enrolled, 30% were unable to correctly complete the clock drawing task, but only 8 had further evaluation of their cognitive abilities, resulting in four new diagnoses of dementia. Subjects who drew incorrect clocks (54%; 16/30) were more likely to be reevaluated in the ED within 2 months than those who drew correct clocks (29%; 20/70; p < 0.02). Cognitive screening of elderly ED patients with the clock drawing task identified a substantial number with unsuspected abnormal cognition. Further evaluation by their primary care physicians in follow-up was disappointing.

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