Review articles: postoperative delirium: acute change with long-term implications

Anesth Analg. 2011 May;112(5):1202-11. doi: 10.1213/ANE.0b013e3182147f6d. Epub 2011 Apr 7.


Delirium is an acute change in cognition and attention, which may include alterations in consciousness and disorganized thinking. Although delirium may affect any age group, it is most common in older patients, especially those with preexisting cognitive impairment. Patients with delirium after surgery recover more slowly than those without delirium and, as a result, have increased length of stay and hospital costs. The measured incidence of postoperative delirium varies with the type of surgery, the urgency of surgery, and the type and sensitivity of the delirium assessment. Although generally considered a short-term condition, delirium can persist for months and is associated with poor cognitive and functional outcomes beyond the immediate postoperative period. In this article, we provide a guide to assess delirium risk preoperatively and to prevent, diagnose, and treat this common and morbid condition. Care improvements such as identifying delirium risk preoperatively; training surgeons, anesthesiologists, and nurses to screen for delirium; implementing delirium prevention programs; and developing standardized delirium treatment protocols may reduce the risk of delirium and its associated morbidity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Attention
  • Cognition
  • Cognition Disorders / complications
  • Cognition Disorders / psychology
  • Comorbidity
  • Delirium / diagnosis
  • Delirium / etiology*
  • Delirium / prevention & control
  • Delirium / psychology
  • Depression / complications
  • Depression / psychology
  • Humans
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Surgical Procedures, Operative / adverse effects*
  • Surgical Procedures, Operative / psychology
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome