Complexity and practice on NHS mental health in-patient dementia assessment wards

John Keady, Nicky Cullum, Lesley Jones, Ruth Watson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: In the United Kingdom, people with dementia admitted to NHS mental health inpatient dementia assessment wards [dementia assessment wards] present as complex and experience a number of changed behaviours, such as excessive walking, agitation and aggression. The complexity of the presentation of dementia has been identified as underpinning pre-and post-admission to these care environments, but limited study has so far been conducted to explore the boundaries and meaning of complexity and its relationship to dementia assessment ward practice.
Design: An on-line electronic survey of UK-based national dementia leaders was conducted in 2018. Nineteen completed questionnaires were returned, and mental health nurses comprised the largest sub-sample. Qualitative data of the free-text responses were analysed using manifest content analysis.
Findings: Four routes to admission to a dementia assessment ward were identified. Multiplicity of needs and interconnectedness were seen as important domains in uncovering the meaning of complexity. The importance of life story and formulation approaches were highlighted. Challenges uncovered included, better understanding changed behaviour and its relationship to complexity, the need for understanding the boundaries of complexity, and making visible care practices on these specific wards.
Originality: Findings can be used to produce a heightened awareness about the meaning and function of complexity in dementia assessment wards. Policymakers and researchers need to increase the emphasis on this area of mental health and dementia care. Further training for the multidisciplinary team on formulation approaches could help to improve the evidence-base for practice.
Original languageEnglish
JournalQuality in Ageing and Older Adults
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 1 Aug 2023


  • changed behaviour
  • complex presentation
  • dementia
  • e-survey
  • formulation
  • mental health in-patient dementia assessment ward
  • ward


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