Dementia May Be Exacerbated by Hospital-Related Delirium

HealthDay News — Hospitalization-related delirium may speed mental decline in patients with dementia, according to a study published in JAMA Psychiatry.

Researchers looked at brain samples from 987 people from the United Kingdom and Finland. They were 65 and older when they died. Records of their last 10 years of memory and cognitive abilities, as well as episodes of delirium, were examined. The outcome assessed was change in Mini-Mental State Examination scores during the 6 years before death.

The team found accelerated cognitive decline beyond that expected for delirium or the pathologic process itself among those with a history of hospital-related delirium and brain abnormalities indicating Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia.

“If delirium is causing brain injury in the short and long-term, then we must increase our efforts to diagnose, prevent, and treat delirium. Ultimately, targeting delirium could be a chance to delay or reduce dementia,” study leader Daniel Davis, PhD, from University College London, said. “Unfortunately, most delirium goes unrecognized. In busy hospitals, a sudden change in confusion may not be noticed by hospital staff. Patients can be transferred several times and staff often switch over — it requires everyone to ‘think delirium’ and identify that a patient’s brain function has changed.”

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Davis DH, Muniz-Terrera G, Keage HA, Stephan BC, et al. Association of Delirium With Cognitive Decline in Late Life: A Neuropathologic Study of 3 Population-Based Cohort Studies [published online January 18, 2017]. JAMA Psychiatry. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2016.3423