Delirium diagnosis methodology used in research: a survey-based study

Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2014 Dec;22(12):1513-21. doi: 10.1016/j.jagp.2014.03.003. Epub 2014 Mar 15.


Objective: To describe methodology used to diagnose delirium in research studies evaluating delirium detection tools.

Methods: The authors used a survey to address reference rater methodology for delirium diagnosis, including rater characteristics, sources of patient information, and diagnostic process, completed via web or telephone interview according to respondent preference. Participants were authors of 39 studies included in three recent systematic reviews of delirium detection instruments in hospitalized patients.

Results: Authors from 85% (N = 33) of the 39 eligible studies responded to the survey. The median number of raters per study was 2.5 (interquartile range: 2-3); 79% were physicians. The raters' median duration of clinical experience with delirium diagnosis was 7 years (interquartile range: 4-10), with 5% having no prior clinical experience. Inter-rater reliability was evaluated in 70% of studies. Cognitive tests and delirium detection tools were used in the delirium reference rating process in 61% (N = 21) and 45% (N = 15) of studies, respectively, with 33% (N = 11) using both and 27% (N = 9) using neither. When patients were too drowsy or declined to participate in delirium evaluation, 70% of studies (N = 23) used all available information for delirium diagnosis, whereas 15% excluded such patients.

Conclusion: Significant variability exists in reference standard methods for delirium diagnosis in published research. Increasing standardization by documenting inter-rater reliability, using standardized cognitive and delirium detection tools, incorporating diagnostic expert consensus panels, and using all available information in patients declining or unable to participate with formal testing may help advance delirium research by increasing consistency of case detection and improving generalizability of research results.

Keywords: Delirium; amnestic; cognitive disorders; data collection; dementia; reference standards; research design.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Research / instrumentation
  • Biomedical Research / methods*
  • Delirium / classification
  • Delirium / diagnosis*
  • Geriatrics / instrumentation
  • Geriatrics / methods*
  • Humans
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Psychiatry / instrumentation
  • Psychiatry / methods*