Donepezil in the prevention and treatment of post-surgical delirium

Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2005 Dec;13(12):1100-6. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajgp.13.12.1100.


Objective: Delirium is a frequent complication of major surgery in older persons. The authors evaluated the possible benefit of donepezil versus placebo in the prevention and treatment of postoperative delirium in an older population without dementia undergoing elective total joint-replacement surgery.

Methods: A sample of 80 patients participated in this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of donepezil. Each participant was evaluated before surgery and then received donepezil or placebo for 14 days before surgery and 14 days afterward. Postoperative delirium was assessed with the Delirium Symptom Interview, Confusion Assessment Method, daily medical record, nurse-observation reviews, and DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for delirium. Subsyndromal delirium was also assessed for each participant.

Results: Delirium, diagnosed by DSM-IV criteria, was found on at least 1 postoperative day in 18.8% of subjects, but there were no significant differences between the donepezil and placebo groups. When delirium was present, it lasted only 1 day, and there was no difference between the groups. Subsyndromal delirium was found on at least 1 postoperative day for 68.8% of subjects, and, when this occurred, lasted 2 days or less, on average. There was no difference between the groups in the occurrence or duration of subsyndromal delirium. There was no difference between the groups in disposition to home or to another facility.

Conclusions: This pilot study was unable to demonstrate a benefit for donepezil in preventing or treating delirium in a relatively young and cognitively-intact group of elderly patients undergoing elective orthopedic surgery. Furthermore, postoperative delirium was not a major problem in this population.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cholinesterase Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Delirium / drug therapy
  • Delirium / prevention & control*
  • Donepezil
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Indans / therapeutic use*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pilot Projects
  • Piperidines / therapeutic use*
  • Postoperative Complications*


  • Cholinesterase Inhibitors
  • Indans
  • Piperidines
  • Donepezil