Hospital study finds connection between dementia, delirium and declining health

September 16, 2013

More than half of all patients with pre-existing dementia will experience delirium while hospitalized. Failing to detect and treat their delirium early leads to a faster decline of both their physical and mental health, according to health researchers.

"This study is important, as delirium is often overlooked and minimized in the hospital setting, especially in persons with ," said Donna M. Fick, Distinguished Professor of Nursing at Penn State and principal investigator for this study. "And it illustrates that delirium is deadly, costly and impacts patient functioning."

The researchers followed 139 hospitalized adults, ages 65 and older, with dementia and found that the patients who developed delirium had a 25 percent chance of dying within 30 days, as reported in the current issue of the Journal of Hospital Medicine.

Dementia is an irreversible, progressive condition that affects cognitive and physical function. Symptoms usually occur over months to years and can include , inability to solve simple problems, difficulties with language and thinking, personality and behavior changes and other mental problems.

Delirium, on the other hand, is a reversible cognitive condition that comes on quickly and if caught and treated early can be resolved. Many of the symptoms of delirium may appear similar to dementia, but signs such as marked and or can help differentiate delirium from dementia.

Fick and colleagues focused on this combination of disorders, known as delirium superimposed on dementia (DSD), in this study. The researchers found a 32 percent incidence of new delirium in the hospitalized patients with dementia. These patients stayed in the hospital about four days longer than patients without delirium, and also had a reduced level of physical and when they left the hospital and at follow-up visits one month later. Additionally, patients with DSD were more likely to have died a month after their hospital stay.

Previous studies have found the cost of delirious episodes rivals those for diabetes and heart disease. Decreasing the length of stay by just one day would save more than $20 million in health care costs per year.

Common causes of delirium are infections, dehydration and medication changes. A third of the patients in this study arrived at the hospital dehydrated.

"Preventing delirium is important because we want to discharge patients at their baseline or improved functioning," said Fick. "We do not want them to go home with worse functioning than when they came into the hospital."

The goal of the researchers is to help practitioners recognize and treat in patients with DSD as early as possible, helping to improve quality of life for the patient.

Related Stories

Relief on the way for delirium patients

May 27, 2011

Adults with dementia and delirium may soon have a way to combat their delirium, thanks to a $2.4 million, five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health.

High rate of early delirium after surgery in older adults

July 24, 2013

Close to half of older adults undergoing surgery with general anesthesia are found to have delirium in the postanesthesia care unit (PACU), according to a study in the August issue of Anesthesia & Analgesia, official journal ...

Recommended for you

New weapon in the fight against malnutrition

August 4, 2015

UBC scientists have opened the doors to new research into malnutrition by creating an animal model that replicates the imbalance of gut bacteria associated with the difficult-to-treat disease.

Can four fish oil pills a day keep the doctor away?

July 7, 2015

Fish oil is one of the most popular dietary supplements in the U.S. because of the perceived cardiovascular benefits of the omega-3 it contains. However, scientific findings on its effectiveness have been conflicting. New ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.