Preventing and treating delirium in clinical settings for older adults

Link to article at PubMed

Ther Adv Psychopharmacol. 2023 Sep 8;13:20451253231198462. doi: 10.1177/20451253231198462. eCollection 2023.


Delirium is a serious consequence of many acute or worsening chronic medical conditions, a side effect of medications, and a precipitant of worsening functional and cognitive status in older adults. It is a syndrome characterized by fluctuations in cognition and impaired attention that develops over a short period of time in response to an underlying medical condition, a substance (prescribed, over the counter, or recreational), or substance withdrawal and can be multi-factorial. We present a narrative review of the literature on nonpharmacologic and pharmacologic approaches to prevention and treatment of delirium with a focus on older adults as a vulnerable population. Older adult patients are most at risk due to decreasing physiologic reserves, with delirium rates of up to 80% in critical care settings. Presentation of delirium can be hyperactive, hypoactive, or mixed, making identification and study challenging as patients with hypoactive delirium are less likely to come to attention in an inpatient or long-term care setting. Studies of delirium focus on prevention and treatment with nonpharmacological or medication interventions, with the preponderance of evidence favoring multi-component nonpharmacological approaches to prevention as the most effective. Though use of antipsychotic medication in delirium is common, existing evidence does not support routine use, showing no clear benefit in clinically significant outcome measures and with evidence of harm in some studies. We therefore suggest that antipsychotics be used to treat agitation, psychosis, and distress associated with delirium at the lowest effective doses and shortest possible duration and not be considered a treatment of delirium itself. Future studies may clarify the use of other agents, such as melatonin and melatonin receptor agonists, alpha-2 receptor agonists, and anti-epileptics.

PMID:37701890 | PMC:PMC10493062 | DOI:10.1177/20451253231198462

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