Detecting Delirium: A Systematic Review of Identification Instruments for Non-ICU Settings

J Am Geriatr Soc. 2021 Feb;69(2):547-555. doi: 10.1111/jgs.16879. Epub 2020 Nov 2.


Background/objectives: Delirium manifests clinically in varying ways across settings. More than 40 instruments currently exist for characterizing the different manifestations of delirium. We evaluated all delirium identification instruments according to their psychometric properties and frequency of citation in published research.

Design: We conducted the systematic review by searching Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL), Cochrane Library, Excerpta Medica Database (Embase), PsycINFO, PubMed, and Web of Science from January 1, 1974, to January 31, 2020, with the keywords "delirium" and "instruments," along with their known synonyms. We selected only systematic reviews, meta-analyses, or narrative literature reviews including multiple delirium identification instruments.

Measurements: Two reviewers assessed the eligibility of articles and extracted data on all potential delirium identification instruments. Using the original publication on each instrument, the psychometric properties were examined using the Consensus-based Standards for the Selection of Health Measurement Instruments (COSMIN) framework.

Results: Of 2,542 articles identified, 75 met eligibility criteria, yielding 30 different delirium identification instruments. A count of citations was determined using Scopus for the original publication for each instrument. Each instrument underwent methodological quality review of psychometric properties using COSMIN definitions. An expert panel categorized key domains for delirium identification based on criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)-III through DSM-5. Four instruments were notable for having at least two of three of the following: citation count of 200 or more, strong validation methodology in their original publication, and fulfillment of DSM-5 criteria. These were, alphabetically, Confusion Assessment Method, Delirium Observation Screening Scale, Delirium Rating Scale-Revised-98, and Memorial Delirium Assessment Scale.

Conclusion: Four commonly used and well-validated instruments can be recommended for clinical and research use. An important area for future investigation is to harmonize these measures to compare and combine studies on delirium.

Keywords: delirium; measurement; psychometrics; systematic review.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Delirium / diagnosis*
  • Delirium / etiology
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders*
  • Humans
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales*
  • Psychometrics
  • Reproducibility of Results