The association between low skeletal muscle mass and delirium: results from the nationwide multi-centre Italian Delirium Day 2017

Aging Clin Exp Res. 2022 Feb;34(2):349-357. doi: 10.1007/s40520-021-01950-8. Epub 2021 Aug 20.


Introduction: Delirium and sarcopenia are common, although underdiagnosed, geriatric syndromes. Several pathological mechanisms can link delirium and low skeletal muscle mass, but few studies have investigated their association. We aimed to investigate (1) the association between delirium and low skeletal muscle mass and (2) the possible role of calf circumference mass in finding cases with delirium.

Methods: The analyses were conducted employing the cross-sectional "Delirium Day" initiative, on patient 65 years and older admitted to acute hospital medical wards, emergency departments, rehabilitation wards, nursing homes and hospices in Italy in 2017. Delirium was diagnosed as a 4 + score at the 4-AT scale. Low skeletal muscle mass was operationally defined as calf circumference ≤ 34 cm in males and ≤ 33 cm in females. Logistic regression models were used to investigate the association between low skeletal muscle mass and delirium. The discriminative ability of calf circumference was evaluated using non-parametric ROC analyses.

Results: A sample of 1675 patients was analyzed. In total, 73.6% of participants had low skeletal muscle mass and 24.1% exhibited delirium. Low skeletal muscle mass and delirium showed an independent association (OR: 1.50; 95% CI 1.09-2.08). In the subsample of patients without a diagnosis of dementia, the inclusion of calf circumference in a model based on age and sex significantly improved its discriminative accuracy [area under the curve (AUC) 0.69 vs 0.57, p < 0.001].

Discussion and conclusion: Low muscle mass is independently associated with delirium. In patients without a previous diagnosis of dementia, calf circumference may help to better identify those who develop delirium.

Keywords: Delirium; Older persons; Sarcopenia.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Delirium* / diagnosis
  • Delirium* / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Italy / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Muscle, Skeletal
  • Sarcopenia* / diagnosis
  • Sarcopenia* / epidemiology