Background: Diphenhydramine hydrochloride is a commonly prescribed medicine in hospitalized patients, but its adverse effects on older patients remain unclear.
Methods: We enrolled 426 hospitalized medical patients aged 70 years or older in a prospective cohort study in a university hospital. Measurements included baseline and daily assessments including Mini-Mental State Examination scores, Confusion Assessment Method ratings, direct observations for medical devices (urinary catheter or physical restraints), and blinded medical record extractions for diphenhydramine use.
Results: Of the 426 patients, 114 (27%) received diphenhydramine during hospitalization and shared similar baseline characteristics including age, sex, delirium risk, and Mini-Mental State Examination scores compared with nonexposed patients. The diphenhydramine-exposed group was at an increased risk for any delirium symptoms (relative risk [RR], 1.7; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.3-2.3) and for individual delirium symptoms, including inattention (RR, 3.0; 95% CI, 1.5-5.9), disorganized speech (RR, 5.5; 95% CI, 1.0-29.8), and altered consciousness (RR, 3.1; 95% CI, 1.6-6.1). Exposed patients also had increased risk for urinary catheter placement (RR, 2.5; 95% CI, 1.0-6.0) and longer median length of stay (7 vs 6 days; P =.009). A dose-response relationship was demonstrated for most adverse outcomes. Overall, 24% of diphenhydramine doses were administered inappropriately.
Conclusions: Diphenhydramine administration in older hospitalized patients is associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline and other adverse effects with a dose-response relationship. Careful review of its use is necessary in this vulnerable population.