Healthcare News & Insights

Hospital delirium: Growing threat in geriatric care

Increasing numbers of experts are calling for “hospital delirium” prevention programs as a way to reduce this major risk to patients. 

Still poorly understood, hospital delirium is being seen (or, perhaps is now more likely to be recognized) in patients. Patients experiencing delirium are often reluctant to discuss it, but have described terrifying scenarios, intense anxiety, disorientation and a feeling that they need to escape the hospital. It’s more common than many health care providers realize — up to one-third of patients over the age of 70 experience it.

And while it was once believed to be a temporary, if unpleasant, occurrence, doctors have found that delirium patients have more complications and generally poorer long-term prognoses.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the patients most at risk aren’t limited to those who already have dementia. Risk factors/triggers include: recent surgery, invasive procedures such as catherization, pneumonia and infection. Some medications, especially sleep aids and those which are poorly metabolized by geriatric patients, have been associated with the syndrome.

The condition can be exacerbated by some of the common patient complaints of hospitalization: constant interruptions that keep patients from sleeping, not having needed eyeglasses/hearing aids with them, changing rooms, losing their daily routine, limited social contact, etc.

The long-term consequences are troubling: Patients with hospital delirium may have needed treatments delayed due to the condition, face more complications, are more likely to later develop dementia, and have higher death rates. It’s believed the delirium puts the patient in a more fragile state that makes other complications more likely.

Prevention programs that keep patients on a daily routine, ensure they have glasses and hearing aids and monitor medications more closely have had some success in reducing the rates of hospital delirium.

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