- Open Access
The impact of facility-based transitional care programs on function and discharge destination for older adults with cognitive impairment: a systematic review
BMC Geriatrics volume 22, Article number: 854 (2022)
Older adults with cognitive impairment are frequently hospitalized and discharged to facility-based transitional care programs (TCPs). However, it is unknown whether TCPs are effective in improving their functional status and promoting discharge home rather than to long-term care. The aims of this systematic review were to examine the effectiveness of facility-based TCPs on functional status, patient and health services outcomes for older adults (≥ 65 years) with cognitive impairment and to determine what proportion post TCP are discharged home compared to long-term care.
The Joanna Briggs Institute Critical Appraisal Manual for Evidence Synthesis was used to guide the methodology for this review. The protocol was published in PROSPERO (registration number CRD42021257870). MEDLINE, CINAHL, PsycINFO, the Cochrane Library, and EMBASE databases, and ClinicalTrials.gov and the World Health Organization Trials Registry were searched for English publications. Studies that met the following criteria were included: community-dwelling older adults ≥ 65 years who participated in facility-based TCPs and included functional status and/or discharge destination outcomes. Studies with participants from nursing homes and involved rehabilitation programs or transitional care in the home or in acute care, were excluded. Risk of bias was assessed using the Joanna Briggs Institute Critical Appraisal Checklists. Results are in narrative form.
Twenty-two studies (18 cohort and four cross sectional studies) involving 4,013,935 participants met inclusion criteria. The quality of the studies was mostly moderate to good. Improvement in activities of daily living (ADLs) was reported in eight of 13 studies. Between 24.4%-68% of participants were discharged home, 20–43.9% were hospitalized, and 4.1–40% transitioned to long-term care. Review limitations included the inability to perform meta-analysis due to heterogeneity of outcome measurement tools, measurement times, and patient populations.
Facility-based TCPs are associated with improvements in ADLs and generally result in a greater percentage of participants with cognitive impairment going home rather than to long-term care. However, gains in function were not as great as for those without cognitive impairment. Future research should employ consistent outcome measurement tools to facilitate meta-analyses. The level of evidence is level III-2 according to the National Health and Medical Research Council for cohort and cross-sectional studies.
As a result of the growing aging population there is a greater urgency to establish and maintain effective health care systems and programs. According to the World Health Organization, the proportion of adults over the age of 60 globally will increase from 12 to 22% between 2015 and 2050 . Moreover, the number of people with dementia will almost double, from 50 million people worldwide in the year 2020 to 82 million in 2030, and 152 million in 2050 . Cognitive impairment (CI), which can include dementia, delirium, and unspecified CI [3, 4], has a global prevalence of 5.1–37.5% among older adults aged 60–69 years, with a median of 20.1% . Given the prevalence of CI in older adults and the growing number of people with dementia, there is an increasing demand for health care services that effectively meet their needs and facilitate positive health outcomes.
Systematic reviews have shown that older adults with CI have poorer health outcomes, including a higher risk for hospitalization , and increased risk for functional decline when hospitalized , and a higher risk for discharge to institutional long-term care post hospitalization , compared to those without CI. Moreover, recent reviews have shown that CI is associated with an increased length of hospital stay  and delayed discharge , which is problematic as these factors are associated with increased mortality, depression, and a decline in mobility and activities of daily living (ADLs) . Therefore, these reviews highlight the need for specialized programs to help older adults with CI achieve positive outcomes such as improvement in functional status and discharge home.
After the acute issue is treated, some older adults remain in hospital longer due to the lack of community supports  or as the result of additional functional decline . Thus, facility-based transitional care programs (TCPs) are one possible solution to facilitate discharge for these individuals. In this review, a facility-based TCP is defined as a post-acute program or unit within a facility which provides short-term, restorative care [14, 15] to older adults. Restorative care involves transitioning from providing full care to older adults to providing assistance to older adults, in order to maintain or improve functional abilities . In terms of intensity, restorative care can involve two or more activities such as walking, mobility, and dressing for at least 15 min a day, six days a week . Restorative care differs from inpatient rehabilitation programs in terms of therapy intensity, as inpatient rehabilitation programs are often high intensity, are typically 4–6 weeks in length, involve daily medical and nursing care, and 30–60 min physical and occupational therapy up to 5 times per week . Throughout the literature, facility-based TCPs may be called by different names. In the United States, they may be called subacute care, post acute care, and skilled nursing facilities . They are called intermediate care models in the United Kingdom, transition care programs in Australia, and transitional care programs in Canada . These programs will hereafter be referred to as TCPs in this paper.
A recent scoping review found that TCPs admit older adult patients both with and without CI . Moreover, functional status was the most common patient outcome, while discharge destination was a frequently used health services outcome . Meta-analyses have shown that TCPs can significantly improve an older adult’s ability to perform ADLs, resulting in 80% of participants being discharged home , and a significant reduction in hospital readmission rates . However, there are no reviews to date that have determined the impact of TCPs on functional status and discharge destination outcomes for older adults with CI. Given the growing aging population and increasing number of older adults with CI who are most at risk to decline functionally, it is critical that a review be undertaken to inform the creation, modification, and maintenance of effective TCPs for this population.
The review questions were: 1) What is the effectiveness of facility-based TCPs on functional status, patient and health services outcomes for older adults (≥ 65 years) with CI? 2) What proportion of older adults with CI at the end of the TCP are discharged home compared to long-term care?
The Joanna Briggs Institute Critical Appraisal Manual for Evidence Synthesis (April 2021)  was used to guide the methodology for this systematic review and the results are reported according to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) 2020 checklist . The review protocol was published in PROSPERO (https://www.crd.york.ac.uk/prospero/; registration number CRD42021257870).
Comprehensive, systematic searches of OVID MEDLINE, CINAHL, PsycINFO, the Cochrane Library, and EMBASE databases were completed on July 15, 2021, from inception to present. The searches were updated on July 9, 2022. The search strategy was developed and refined by AC in consultation with KSM, TJFC, MTP, and a library information sciences expert (MM).
The three key search terms were: 1) transitional care programs; 2) older adults; and 3) cognitive impairment. In this review, cognitive impairment includes dementia, delirium, and non-specified cognitive impairment, as differentiating between them can be challenging . Long-term care includes long-term care homes, nursing homes, and care homes . Reference lists of included studies and reviews were also hand searched for relevant articles. The full search strategies and search results for each database can be found in Additional file 1.
Registries of ongoing trials from ClinicalTrials.gov and the 17 primary registries on the World Health Organization website , were searched independently by two reviewers (SR and AC or NZ). See Additional file 2 for registry search strategies, results and the dates the registries were last searched. Grey literature was not included in this review.
Pilot testing of the search strategy was completed by two independent reviewers (AC, PS, SR). Titles and abstracts were screened by two independent reviewers (AC, PS, SR, CW); full texts of studies were also screened by two independent reviewers (AC, SR, PS, NZ). Disagreements were resolved by discussion and consensus with a third reviewer (the other of AC, PS, SR, SW, or NZ). Covidence systematic review software  was used to manage and record data decisions.
Studies were eligible for inclusion if the following criteria were met: 1) included community-dwelling older adults (mean age ≥ 65 years) with CI (dementia, delirium, and/or CI) who were hospitalized and then admitted to a facility-based TCP; 2) TCPs were delivered in skilled nursing facilities, nursing homes, subacute and post acute units in hospitals, geriatric intermediate care facilities, and convalescent care [14, 15]; 3) included functional status and/or discharge destination as outcomes, with functional status defined as the ability to perform activities needed in daily life , measured using a validated tool, such as the Barthel Index, and discharge destinations including home, long-term care, and hospital; 4) published as a full length manuscript in a peer-reviewed journal; 5) designated as primary and secondary interventional studies (RCTs, quasi-experimental), primary and secondary observational studies (prospective cohort, retrospective cohort, cross-sectional, and case–control), and mixed-methods studies if there was quantitative data on functional status and/or discharge destination; 6) published in English.
The exclusion criteria were: 1) reviews, case studies, dissertations, conference proceedings, editorials, and qualitative studies; 2) mean age of participants < 65 years old; 3) participants living in a long-term care facility prior to hospitalization and TCP admission; 4) participants who were at the end of life (< 6 months prognosis) ; 5) rehabilitation programs; 6) transitional care provided in the home; 7) transitional care services provided only in acute care.
Data were independently extracted by two reviewers (AC and SR, PS, CI, NZ, or TC) using a pre-piloted extraction form created with Microsoft Excel 2019. Information about the study design and methodology, TCP characteristics (staff complement, description of TCP services, inclusion and exclusion criteria), participant characteristics, and all outcome measures were extracted from the articles. The outcomes were reported according to the classification of outcomes as outlined in McGilton et al. . The primary outcomes were functional status and discharge destination post TCP. The secondary outcomes were divided into patient outcomes, such as mortality, and health services outcomes, such as rehospitalization . Disagreements between individual judgments were resolved by discussion and consensus. Authors [29,30,31,32,33,34,35,36,37,38,39,40,41,42,43,44,45,46,47,48] were contacted to ascertain any required information that was missing or unclear and data provided directly by the authors [29, 30, 47] was included in this review (See PRISMA diagram, Fig. 1). Information that was not in the study was reported as ‘NR’ (not reported). Extracted data for this review can be found in Additional file 4.
Risk of bias assessment
The Joanna Briggs Institute Critical Appraisal Checklists  were used to assess the risk of bias in the included studies. The checklists were completed by two independent reviewers (AC, KSM, PS, TJFC) and disagreements were resolved by discussion and consensus. No studies were excluded on the basis of quality. Fair quality was assigned to studies if less than or equal to 50% of the checklist items were given a rating of yes, moderate quality if 51–80% of items were given a rating of yes, and good quality if greater than 80% of items were given a rating of yes, based on the rating system used by Benenson et al. .
Synthesis of results
Results were synthesized in narrative form, using tables and figures according to outcome measure. A meta-analysis was not performed due to heterogeneity in the outcome measurement tools and data measurement times. There was also heterogeneity in the patient populations; although all participants had some form of CI, some studies focused on specific populations, such as veterans or older adults with heart failure or traumatic brain injury.
Figure 1 shows the PRISMA flow diagram which outlines the study selection process. The search of the databases yielded 14,556 articles, the search of the trial registers yielded 12 articles, and hand searches of reference lists of included studies yielded 222 articles, with 2,714 duplicates in total. After completing title and abstract and full text screening, 30 studies met the inclusion criteria. Among the 30 studies that included older adults with CI, only 22 performed a subgroup analysis or had separate data for older adults with CI. Therefore, data was extracted from the 22 studies which reported information on a total of 22 TCPs and 4,013,935 study participants.
Risk of bias assessment
The majority (n = 21) of studies were of good or moderate quality (Additional file 3. Tables S1 and S2). Thirteen studies (59%) had good quality [38, 42, 46,47,48, 51,52,53,54,55,56,57,58], eight (36%) had moderate quality [30, 44, 45, 59,60,61,62,63], and one (5%) had fair quality . The main issues that lowered study quality were the absence of strategies to address incomplete follow up in 13 studies (59%) [29, 30, 38, 42, 44,45,46, 57,58,59,60, 62, 63] and incomplete follow up or lack of description and exploration of reasons for loss to follow up in seven studies (32%) [29, 30, 44, 45, 60, 62, 63]. No randomized controlled trials met criteria for inclusion in the review. As well, there were four cross-sectional studies [30, 47, 53, 56]. Thus, although the studies had no obvious limitations, the review only included observational studies which allow only for the determination of association and not causality. The level of evidence is level III-2 according to National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) for cohort and cross-sectional studies .
Characteristics of included studies
Among the included studies, 14 (64%) were completed in the United States [42, 44,45,46,47,48, 51, 52, 54, 55, 57, 58, 62, 63], two (9%) in Australia [38, 53], and one (5%) each in Hong Kong , Italy , Japan , Norway , Singapore , and Taiwan . Eighteen of the 22 articles (82%) were cohort studies, with 13 (59%) being retrospective cohort studies [38, 42, 44, 46, 48, 51, 52, 55, 57,58,59, 61, 62] and five (23%) prospective cohort studies [29, 30, 45, 60, 63]. There were also three (14%) cross-sectional studies [47, 53, 54] and one (5%) retrospective study design for data from a cross-sectional survey . There were no RCTs or quasi-experimental studies among the included articles. Study characteristics are highlighted in Additional file 3: Table S3.
Characteristics of the TCPs
There were a variety of settings where the TCPs were conducted, with skilled nursing facilities being the most common (n = 9) [42, 44, 45, 51, 52, 54, 58, 62, 63]. Other settings included nursing homes (n = 7) [38, 46,47,48, 55, 57, 60]; a subacute ward in a hospital (n = 2) [59, 61]; a community hospital-based post-acute care unit (n = 1) ; a post-acute convalescence unit (n = 1) ; a transition care facility (n = 1)  and geriatric intermediate care facilities (n = 1) .
Among the eight studies [29, 30, 38, 53, 56, 59,60,61] that reported on staff complement in TCPs, there were eight studies which involved nurses [30, 38, 47, 53, 56, 59,60,61]. Six studies each involved physiotherapists [29, 30, 38, 53, 56, 60] and occupational therapists [29, 30, 38, 53, 56, 60] and three studies each involved physicians [56, 59, 60], geriatricians [59,60,61], social workers [38, 53, 56] and personal care workers/aides [30, 47, 53]. Two studies each included case managers [29, 38], speech therapists [53, 56], and dieticians/nutritionist [29, 53]. One study included both care coordinators and allied health specialists  and one study involved a podiatrist . Services provided in the TCPs were reported in ten out of the 20 studies [29, 30, 38, 46, 52, 56, 57, 59,60,61] and most involved therapies to improve physical function [29, 30, 38, 56, 57, 60]. Services included customised low-intensity therapies to increase physical, cognitive, and psychosocial function ; a physical reablement program through daily physiotherapy and occupational therapy sessions, exercise and ADL assistance, nutrition consultation, medication reconciliation, social worker visit on admission and as needed ; non-pharmacologic and pharmacological approaches to patients with dementia and challenging neuropsychiatric symptoms ; nursing care [46, 56, 57, 59] or treatment  or post-acute care  and rehabilitation [46, 52, 56, 57, 60]; 2 h daily, 5 days per week of mobility and ADL training ; and 180 min of direct nursing care . Details on TCP characteristics are presented in Additional file 3: Table S3.
Among the 22 studies, the mean age of participants ranged from 68.0  to 84.6  years. The percentage of females in the studies ranged from 0%  to 96.9% . In terms of ethnicity, the majority were White, ranging from 71.7%  to 89%  of participants. The Charlson Comorbidity Index score was reported in seven studies [30, 45, 47, 51, 55, 61, 63] and ranged from 1.6  to 3.0 .
Eight studies reported outcomes for older adults with dementia [29, 38, 48, 51, 52, 54, 56, 61]; six studies for older adults with CI [44, 46, 53, 58, 60, 62]; three studies for older adults with CI and dementia [30, 47, 57]; two studies for older adults with delirium [42, 45]; two studies for older adults with delirium and dementia ; and one study for older adults with delirium and subsyndromal delirium . Delirium was most often measured using the Confusion Assessment Method [45, 55]. Dementia was measured most frequently through the Minimum Data Set admission assessment [45, 47, 55], by the International Classification of Disease coding [42, 56], or through medical records [30, 44]. CI was often defined using the Cognitive Function Scale [44, 46, 62]. Participant characteristics, including tools used to identify CI, are detailed in Table 1. The majority of participants had dementia [38, 42, 54, 56, 61] or mild CI [44, 46, 58, 62], however, the stage of dementia was not specified in the included studies.
Research question 1: effectiveness of TCPs on functional status, patient and health services outcomes
Performance of ADLs
Thirteen studies assessed the impact of TCPs on functional status [29, 30, 38, 42, 44,45,46, 51, 53, 55, 57, 58, 62], see Table 2. Functional status was primarily measured as performance of ADLs, with the Minimum Data Set ADL score (n = 8) being the most commonly used tool [42, 44,45,46, 55, 57, 58, 62]. Performance of ADLs was measured at multiple time points, with assessment most often at admission, discharge, and at 1-month. For functional status outcomes, only those reported from admission to discharge, or first time point are reported below, but follow up time points are found in Table 2.
Improvement in functional status was reported in eight studies for older adults with CI [29, 30, 42, 44, 51, 53, 55, 62]; however, overall, a greater percentage of participants without CI experienced functional improvement compared to those with CI. Improvement in performance of ADLs was reported in 28.4%  to 53.3%  with dementia, 46.2% with dementia and delirium , 51.9% with delirium , and 57.4% of participants with CI , compared with 30.6%  to 68.8%  of participants without CI. Moreover, gains in functional status scores were smaller for older adults with CI , dementia [29, 53], and delirium , compared to those without CI. Furthermore, poor functional status post TCP was reported in four studies [38, 45, 57, 58] and having CI was associated with significantly less improvement in one study .
Other patient outcomes were assessed in six studies [29, 45, 54, 55, 62, 63], with mortality (n = 5) [30, 54, 55, 62, 63] being the most common (Additional file 3: Table S4). Three-month mortality ranged from 8.2%  to 33.7%  for participants with CI, compared to a range from 5.7%  to 12.8%  for those with no CI. Six-month mortality rate for older adults with delirium was 25.0% and 18.3% for those with subsyndromal delirium, compared to only 5.7% for those without delirium . Furthermore, 1-year mortality for older adults with CI ranged from 38.8%  to 49.1% , compared to a range from 24.4%  to 26.2% for those without CI . There were improvements between admission and at four weeks in the Mini-Mental State Examination, Geriatric Depression Scale, and Mini Nutritional Assessment scores in older adults with dementia, however, those without CI had greater improvements in the Geriatric Depression Scale than those with CI .
Health services outcomes
Health services outcomes were measured in five studies [29, 30, 54, 55, 62] (Additional file 3. Table S5), with mean length of TCP stay being most commonly evaluated [29, 30, 62]. Mean TCP length of stay for older adults with CI ranged from 28.6 days  to 37.2 days , compared to a range from 27.5 days  to 31.7 days for older adults without CI . Between 13.4 and 16.4% of participants with dementia were re-hospitalized within 30 days , while 17.2% of older adults with delirium and dementia, 26.4% of older adults with delirium but no dementia , and between 13.8% and 16.8% of patients without dementia  were re-hospitalized. Between 24.6%  and 38.7%  of participants with dementia and 34.3% of older adults with CI  were re-hospitalized within 90 days , compared to between 22.3%  and 27.2%  of older adults with no CI.
Research question 2: proportion of older adults discharged home and to LTC
Eleven studies assessed discharge destination [38, 47, 51,52,53,54,55,56, 60, 61, 63]. The most common discharge destination was home, followed by hospital, and then nursing home (Fig. 2). The percentage of participants with any form of CI discharged home ranged from 24.4%  to 68% ; to hospital ranged from 20%  to 43.9% ; and to long-term care ranged from 4.1%  to 40% . In comparison, for participants without CI, between 55.1%  and 73%  were discharged home, 13% were discharged to hospital , and 2.7% to 3.5%  were discharged to long-term care. Moreover, participants with dementia in facility-based TCPs were less likely to be discharged to home (adjusted odds ratio (aOR) 0.53  and aOR 0.4 ) compared to participants without dementia. Finally, participants with CI were less likely to be discharged home (odds ratio (OR) 0.46), more likely to be discharged to the nursing home or be deceased after two months (OR 2.95), and more likely to transfer to another TCP after two months (OR 1.96), compared to those without CI .
Beyond the percentage of participants discharged home, four studies [47, 48, 51, 54] specified the percentage of participants who had a successful community discharge, that is, they were discharged from TCP to the community within 90–100 days of TCP admission [47, 51, 54] and, within 30 days of discharge from TCP, they were not hospitalized [47, 48, 51, 54], were not admitted to a nursing home [47, 48, 51], and did not die [47, 48, 51]. Between 24.6%  and 68.0%  of older adults with any form of CI, compared to 58.1%  and 62.9%  of older adults with no CI had a successful community discharge. Furthermore, only one study  looked at both successful discharge (57.4% of older adults with dementia) and functional decline. Improvement in functional status was found in 28.4% of participants with dementia, while 45.5% had no improvement, and 26.1% had missing data .
Quality of studies
Although the majority of the studies were rated moderate to good quality, the heterogeneity of the outcome measures, measurement times, and patient populations as well as study designs in the included studies, in addition to the lack of RCTs in this review precluded meaningful meta-analysis. Furthermore, as all the studies included in this review were observational, there is a risk of bias due to lack of randomization. Therefore, only determination of associations was possible.
The results of this systematic review reveal that TCPs help improve outcomes for older adults with and without CI [29, 30, 42, 44, 51, 53,54,55, 62]. However, a greater percentage of participants without CI had improvements in ADLs and better patient and health services outcomes compared to those with CI. In terms of discharge destination, older adults with CI were more often discharged home than to long-term care, however, a greater percentage of participants without CI were discharged home [38, 45, 47, 54, 55, 60]. There was also a wide range in the percentage of older adults with CI who had a successful discharge home [47, 48, 51, 54].
A meta-analysis by Hang et al.  on community-dwelling older adults in TCPs found a significant improvement in modified Barthel Index functional score between admission and discharge (pooled mean difference of 17.65 points (95% confidence interval [5.68, 29.62], p = 0.004). However, Hang et al.’s meta-analysis did not focus on community-dwelling older adults with CI; instead, they focused on community-dwelling older adults in general. In this review, community-dwelling older adults with CI in TCPs also had an improvement in ADLs which was reported in eight of 12 studies. However, the study by Miu, Chan, & Kok  used the modified Barthel Index and found a smaller increase in functional score for those with dementia than that reported in Hang et al. . Similarly, overall, functional improvement found in this present review was smaller for older adults with CI than for those without CI.
Although participants with CI had less functional improvement in TCPs than those without CI, it is likely that having older adults with CI who remain in hospitals once their acute medical condition is treated is not ideal. A previous review by Hartley et al. and an article by Pedone and colleagues demonstrated that having CI on hospital admission is a risk factor for functional decline [7, 65]. Therefore, the improvements in functional status in TCPs indicate that these settings may be a better option for older adults with CI, rather than remaining in acute care where there is the risk of functional decline.
The meta-analysis by Hang and colleagues found that 80% of older adult participants in TCPs were discharged home ; however, this is a stark difference from the 25.9–68% of older adults with CI discharged home in the current review. Prior research on hospitalized older adults who have CI found that living alone and having responsive behaviours (e.g., verbal or physical behaviours related to care provision) at admission were negatively associated with discharge home . Therefore, behavioural and psychological symptoms may influence discharge outcomes . Thus, the lower percentage of participants with dementia being discharged home from TCPs may be due a variety of factors; future research to determine the facilitators and barriers to being discharged home is needed. In terms of discharge to long-term care, a review by Fogg and colleagues found that between 8.3–22.4% of hospitalized patients with CI (mild CI, CI, dementia) compared to 3.5–19.4% with no CI (p = 0.001), transitioned to nursing homes post TCP , slightly less than what was found in the present review (4.1–40%). Moreover, these reviews highlight the need for specialized interventions to increase the percentage of older adults with CI who can be discharged to their home.
Furthermore, given the role of TCPs in improving safety of transitions, there is a need to consider the difference between promoting increased discharge home and promoting successful discharge home. Discharged home means that the older adults are not discharged to a different facility such as long-term care. Successful discharge was defined slightly differently by each of the four studies; it means that, within 30 days of discharge to home, the older adult avoids re-hospitalization [47, 48, 51, 54], admission to nursing home [47, 48, 51], and death [47, 48, 51]. Moreover, adverse events such as falls , functional decline , and medication-related adverse events  can all contribute to re-hospitalization risk. Given the percentage of older adults with CI who were re-hospitalized post TCP [48, 51, 54, 55] as well as the wide range for the percentage of older adults with CI who had a successful discharge home [47, 48, 51, 54], there is a need for interventions to promote safe, successful transitions to the home that reduces the risk of adverse events. Indeed, Toles and colleagues’ study involving persons with dementia, their care partners, TCP staff, and home health nurses found that transitions from TCPs to home involve several important and unique care needs . These included care planning specific to the needs of persons with dementia; the need to prepare care partners to manage dementia symptoms at home; difficulty connecting care partners and older adults with dementia to community supports; and the need for support for care partners to address their own needs . Other considerations to reduce adverse events that can result in re-hospitalization include medication management , addressing information needs of care partners, such as providing instructions on how to transfer the older adults in and out of a wheelchair, and scheduled post-TCP medical follow-up appointments .
This present review also demonstrates that various health care professionals are involved in the different TCP models of care. One model which has resulted in positive functional status and patient outcomes included an interprofessional team that focused on a reablement approach . A reablement approach in older adults with dementia involves maintaining function for as long as possible, regaining lost function when it is possible to do so, and adapting when lost function cannot be regained . In Lee et al.’s prospective cohort study, a TCP with a physical reablement program consisting of a comprehensive geriatric assessment, ADL training, exercises, and care plans with functional goals resulted in improvements in all patient outcome measures, including functional status, instrumental ADLs, and cognitive function for older adults with dementia . However, discharge destination was not an outcome assessed in this study. The reablement approach could be adopted by TCPs and tested for the impact on both functional status and discharge destination in future studies. This model could also be compared and evaluated with other models in order to determine best practices for this population.
Implications for practice, policy, and future research
This review provided supportive evidence regarding the impact of TCPs on improvements in ADLs, patient and health services outcomes, and the greater percentage of discharges home than to long-term care for older adults with CI. However, practitioners and policymakers should take into consideration the level of evidence from this review, given the lack of RCTs and quasi-experimental studies.
In practice, health care teams can consider TCPs as possible discharge destinations for older adults with CI who are not yet ready to be discharged home. Given that participants with CI gained smaller improvements in ADLs, it is critical to identify patients with any form of CI, so that additional or specialized resources, such as recreational therapy, behavioural supports, or Geriatric Psychiatry, can be allocated to help improve their outcomes. Moreover, in order to improve the safety of transitions, TCPs should consider including informational support to care partners on dementia care, connecting care partners and older adults with CI with community resources, and providing support for the needs of care partners.
Given the findings of improved ADLs in older adults, TCPs may be better settings than acute care for this population and as such should be transferred to these settings as soon as they are medically stable. Thus, policymakers involved in the creation or modification of future TCPs should ensure timely access to TCPs for persons with CI. Policymakers should also consider the rate of successful discharges for older adults with CI as a quality measure for TCPs.
Although this review showed that there were improvements in ADLs for older adults with CI associated with TCPs, causality cannot be implied due to the lack of RCT evidence.
Thus, there is a need for RCTs to be conducted to compare TCPs for older adults with CI with usual care, and to assess whether improvements in functional status translate into an increase in the percentage of older adults with CI who are discharged home. Second, there is a need to develop and test reablement interventions in TCPs that focus on maintaining and improving functional status in older adults with CI; a reablement program may be one solution . Third, further studies are required to assess and measure other health outcomes such as complex functioning required to perform IADLs, in addition to the performance of ADLs, since living in the community requires more than just physical capabilities . Fourth, future studies should utilize standardized functional status measurement tools among older adults with CI in TCPs in order to facilitate meta-analyses. Fifth, studies should include both discharge destination and rate of successful discharge to community as outcome measures, to demonstrate effectiveness of TCPs. Finally, there is a need for quantitative and qualitative studies to determine the factors, such as social supports and resources, barriers, and facilitators, that can have an impact on discharge destination for this population, and for intervention studies to address the barriers.
Strengths and limitations
Strengths of this review include registering and following a PROSPERO protocol and having studies that were of moderate to good quality. As well, there were large sample sizes in the included studies, increasing the confidence placed in the results of the review. In addition, the search strategy was developed in consultation with a library information sciences expert, promoting comprehensiveness. Furthermore, the time frame for the study was from inception to present, thereby promoting the inclusion of all applicable studies. A limitation of the review was that only studies reported in English were included, which may limit generalizability of the findings. Additional research studies may have been missed due to the exclusion of non-English language documents. Another limitation is that there are differences between the TCPs in different countries; SNFs in the US have differences compared to transition care programs in Australia and transitional care programs in Canada. As well, a limitation was the variability in outcome measurement tools and outcome assessment times, as well as patient populations, which prevented meta-analysis.
This systematic review showed that overall facility-based TCPs are associated with improvements in ADLs, and a larger percentage of older adults with CI were discharged home compared to long-term care. However, functional status and discharge destination outcomes for older adults with CI were worse than for those without CI. There is a need for RCTs to determine the effectiveness of TCPs in improving functional status and other patient outcomes and a specific call to understand interventions to increase the percentage of older adults with CI who are discharged home.
Availability of data and materials
All data generated or analysed during this study are included in this published article [and its supplementary information files].
Transitional Care Program
Randomized controlled trial
Activities of daily living
Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses
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The authors wish to acknowledge Mikaela Mitchell for her assistance with refining the search strategy, Chandra Waddington for her assistance with title and abstract screening, Constance Irwin for her assistance with data extraction, Steven Stewart for his guidance on the critical appraisal checklists, Ana Patricia Ayala for providing an initial consultation on conducting the review, Nancy Zheng for her assistance with the search of the trial registries, full text screening, and data extraction for the 2022 search update, and Margaret Keatings for critically reviewing the final manuscript. The authors would like to acknowledge the Veterans Affairs Geriatrics & Extended Care Data Analysis Center (GECDAC) for providing summary information for an article included in this review. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs or the United States government.
Dr. McGilton is supported by the Walter & Maria Schroeder Institute for Brain Innovation and Recovery. Dr. Puts is supported by a Canada Research Chair in the care for older adults with frailty. Ms. Cumal is supported by funding from the Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing at the University of Toronto. The funders were not involved in the design of the study, collection, analysis, and interpretation of data or in writing the manuscript.
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Full Database Search Strategies and Search Results.
Registry Search Strategies, Results and the Dates the Registries were Last Searched.
Risk of Bias Assessment for Cohort Studies; Table S2. Risk of Bias Assessment for Cross-Sectional Studies; Table S3. Characteristics of Included Studies; Table S4. Patient Outcomes; Table S5. Health Services Outcomes.
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Cumal, A., Colella, T.J.F., Puts, M.T. et al. The impact of facility-based transitional care programs on function and discharge destination for older adults with cognitive impairment: a systematic review. BMC Geriatr 22, 854 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12877-022-03537-y
- Transitional care programs
- Cognitive impairment
- Functional status
- Discharge destination
- Systematic review