Delirium May Speed Up Cognitive Decline in Dementia

(HealthDay News) — Hospitalization-related delirium may speed mental decline in patients with dementia, according to a study published online Jan. 18 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 six 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.

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“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, Ph.D., from University College London, said in a university news release. “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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