Objective: To examine the impact of delirium on the trajectory of cognitive function in a cohort of patients with Alzheimer disease (AD).
Methods: A secondary analysis of data collected from a large prospective cohort, the Massachusetts Alzheimer's Disease Research Center's patient registry, examined cognitive performance over time in patients who developed (n = 72) or did not develop (n = 336) delirium during the course of their illnesses. Cognitive performance was measured by change in score on the Information-Memory-Concentration (IMC) subtest of the Blessed Dementia Rating Scale. Delirium was identified using a previously validated chart review method. Using linear mixed regression models, rates of cognitive change were calculated, controlling for age, sex, education, comorbid medical diagnoses, family history of dementia, dementia severity score, and duration of symptoms before diagnosis.
Results: A significant acceleration in the slope of cognitive decline occurs following an episode of delirium. Among patients who developed delirium, the average decline at baseline for performance on the IMC was 2.5 points per year, but after an episode of delirium there was further decline to an average of 4.9 points per year (p = 0.001). Across groups, the rate of change in IMC score occurred about three times faster in those who had delirium compared to those who did not.
Conclusions: Delirium can accelerate the trajectory of cognitive decline in patients with Alzheimer disease (AD). The information from this study provides the foundation for future randomized intervention studies to determine whether prevention of delirium might ameliorate or delay cognitive decline in patients with AD.