Dementia patients in Virginia often sent to psych wards

A state law in Virginia allows patients with dementia to be involuntarily committed to state psychiatric hospitals if they are deemed to be a threat to others or themselves, a phenomenon also seen in several other states, according to The Virginian-Pilot.


Virginia's 2014 "bed of last resort" law requires state psychiatric hospitals to admit patients in a mental health crisis if private facilities will not take them in. Temporary detention orders, which require involuntary hospitalizations for people in mental health crises who are deemed a threat to themselves or others, have increased by 294 percent since the law was implemented.

Patients with dementia are sometimes lumped in with psychiatric patients, in part because of a lack of facilities equipped to deal with dementia's challenges. But dementia patients require different treatment from psychiatric patients.

Similar situations can be found throughout the country, according to W. Lawrence Fitch, a professor at the Baltimore-based University of Maryland Law School. Some states have managed to provide better protections for people with dementia, however. People with Alzheimer's in Wisconsin, for example, are assigned a guardian who can place them somewhere other than a psychiatric facility.

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