The association between delirium and cognitive decline: a review of the empirical literature

Neuropsychol Rev. 2004 Jun;14(2):87-98. doi: 10.1023/b:nerv.0000028080.39602.17.


Delirium is a common neurobehavioral syndrome that occurs across health care settings which is associated with adverse outcomes, including death. There are limited data on long-term cognitive outcomes following delirium. This report reviews the literature regarding relationships between delirium and cognitive impairment. Psych Info and Medline searches and investigation of secondary references for all English language articles on delirium and subsequent cognitive impairment were carried out. Nine papers met inclusion criteria and documented cognitive impairment in patients following delirium. Four papers reported greater cognitive impairment among patients with delirium than matched controls. Four papers reported higher incidence of dementia in patients with a history of delirium. One study found 1 of 3 survivors of critical illness with delirium developed cognitive impairment. The evidence suggests a relationship between delirium and cognitive impairment, although significant questions remain regarding the nature of this association. Additional research on delirium-related effects on long-term cognitive outcome is needed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis
  • Cognition Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Delirium / epidemiology*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Surveys and Questionnaires