The impact of delirium on outcomes for older adults hospitalised with COVID-19

Age Ageing. 2020 Oct 23;49(6):923-926. doi: 10.1093/ageing/afaa189.


Introduction: Delirium is a frequent condition in hospitalized older patients and it usually has a negative prognostic value. A direct effect of SARS-COV-2 on the central nervous system (CNS) has been hypothesized.

Objective: To evaluate the presence of delirium in older patients admitted for a suspected diagnosis of COVID-19 and its impact on in-hospital mortality.

Setting and subjects: 91 patients, aged 70-years and older, admitted to an acute geriatric ward in Northern Italy from March 8th to April 17th, 2020.

Methods: COVID-19 cases were confirmed by reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction assay for SARS-Cov-2 RNA from nasal and pharyngeal swabs. Delirium was diagnosed by two geriatricians according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders V (DMS V) criteria. The number of chronic diseases was calculated among a pre-defined list of 60. The pre-disease Clinical Frailty Scale (CFS) was assessed at hospital admission.

Results: Of the total sample, 39 patients died, 49 were discharged and 3 were transferred to ICU. Twenty-five patients (27.5%) had delirium. Seventy-two percent of patients with delirium died during hospitalization compared to 31.8% of those without delirium. In a multivariate logistic regression model adjusted for potential confounders, patients with delirium were four times more likely to die during hospital stay compared to those without delirium (OR = 3.98;95%CI = 1.05-17.28; p = 0.047).

Conclusions: Delirium is common in older patients with COVID-19 and strongly associated with in-hospital mortality. Regardless of causation, either due to a direct effect of SARS-COV-2 on the CNS or to a multifactorial cause, delirium should be interpreted as an alarming prognostic indicator in older people.

Keywords: COVID-19; delirium; older people.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Betacoronavirus*
  • COVID-19
  • Comorbidity
  • Coronavirus Infections / epidemiology*
  • Delirium / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Frailty / epidemiology*
  • Hospital Mortality
  • Hospitals / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Italy / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / epidemiology*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • SARS-CoV-2