Delivering Trauma-Informed Care in a Hospital Ward for Older Adults With Dementia: An Illustrative Case Series

Leah Couzner, Natalie Spence, Karina Fausto, Yan Huo, Lynn Vale, Samantha Elkins, Johanna Saltis, Monica Cations

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Up to 70% of older adults have experienced a psychologically traumatic event in their life. Traumatic events can have lifelong effects on functioning and emotion regulation and can affect behavior and experiences in care settings. Common healthcare practices and environments can be re-traumatizing for trauma survivors. These features may trigger behavior change (e.g., aggression and agitation) particularly after the onset of dementia. However, very little research exists to understand how the effects of traumatic events manifest in aged care settings. Trauma-informed care is a framework in which the potential impact of trauma is acknowledged, and practices and procedures are adapted to maximize feelings of control and safety for the patient. Trauma-informed care is an innovative approach with little published evidence in acute geriatric settings.

We present a series of cases to demonstrate how psychological trauma can affect the experience of inpatient care for older people. The cases detail the patients' relevant background, triggers and behaviors followed by the steps taken by staff to support the patient and respond to their trauma-related needs. These cases describe how the principles of trauma-informed care can be applied to recognize when past psychologically traumatic events are impacting the older adult in hospital. The outcomes of these interventions are reported on in terms of their impact on challenging behavior, patient experiences and satisfaction with care, and/or staff confidence and skill.

A range of past events negatively impacted the patients during their time in hospital, including childhood abuse, military service, and domestic violence. Staff implemented strategies to accommodate trauma-related needs while providing care that improved safety and reduced patient distress. Principles of trauma-informed care were applied where able, including providing choices and enabling autonomy. However, organizational and environmental features of inpatient wards continued to pose risks for re-traumatisation.

Trauma-informed care is an under-utilized yet potentially beneficial approach to care for older adults in the hospital setting. The cases detailed here demonstrated that the impact of psychological trauma requires an individualized response from staff which when effectively implemented can promote staff and patient safety, reduce the risk of re-traumatisation, and minimize adverse events.
Original languageEnglish
Article number934099
Number of pages7
JournalFrontiers in Rehabilitation Sciences
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jul 2022


  • dementia
  • hospitals
  • inpatient care
  • behavior
  • psychological trauma
  • mental health
  • trauma-informed care


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