But disorienting condition can be treated if recognized, researchers say

January 18, 2017

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 18, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- Hospitalization-related delirium may speed mental decline in patients with dementia, a new study suggests.

Delirium affects about one-fourth of older hospital patients and causes confusion and disorientation.

British researchers looked at brain samples from nearly 1,000 people from the United Kingdom and Finland. They were 65 and older when they died. Records of their last 10 years of memory and thinking abilities, as well as episodes of delirium, were examined.

Although the study couldn't prove cause and effect, the researchers found that memory changes were most severe 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," said study leader Dr. Daniel Davis, from University College London.

"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," Davis said in a university news release.

Delirium is preventable and treatable. Further research is needed to determine how delirium interacts with dementia, and how that connection can be blocked, the study authors said.

The study was published Jan. 18 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about delirium in older patients.

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