Delirium May Fast Track Onset Of Dementia

In Mental Health

It is not uncommon for hospital patients to become disoriented and confused. Nearly a quarter of older patients can be affected by this phenomenon and now a new study by UCL and the University of Cambridge shows this condition may have devastating long-lasting implications for those patients, including accelerating the onset of dementia.

Published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, the study is the first to identify the impact of delirium on dementia on these fragile at-risk patients. Episodes of delirium in patients who have never previously shown signs of dementia may prove to be an early warning indicator of dementia

Cognitive decline amongst older patients can be hastened by both delirium and dementia. Delirium, however, is both preventable and treatable through specialised geriatric care.

While additional research into how delirium interacts with dementia is needed, there may be the potential to understand how this transition can be prevented

As Dr. Daniel Davis (MRC Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing at UCL), who led the research while at the University of Cambridge explained, “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.”

In the study, researchers examined brain specimens in 987 people aged 65 and older drawn from three European countries: Finland, Cambridge, and the United Kingdom. Each individual’s memory, thinking, and experience of delirium had been painstakingly recorded over 10 years towards the end of their life. After cross-correlating this data with pathology abnormalities caused by Alzheimer’s and other dementias, those with patients exhibiting both delirium and dementia-related changes had the most severe change in memory performance.

Dr Davis added: “Unfortunately, most delirium goes unrecognised. In busy hospitals, a sudden change in confusion 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.”