Delirium in the NICU: A Point Prevalence Study

Hosp Pediatr. 2021 Nov;11(11):e321-e326. doi: 10.1542/hpeds.2020-005736.


Objectives: Delirium is a well-described complication of critical illness, with occurrence rates of >25% in the PICU, and associated morbidity. Infants in the NICU are likely at risk. There have been no previous screening studies to quantify delirium rates in the neonatal population. We hypothesized that delirium was prevalent in term neonates in the NICU. In this pilot study, our objective was to estimate prevalence using a validated pediatric delirium screening tool, which has not yet been tested in NICUs.

Methods: In this point prevalence study, all term or term-corrected infants admitted to the NICU on designated study days were screened for delirium using the Cornell Assessment of Pediatric Delirium.

Results: A total of 149 infants were eligible for screening over 8 study days. A total of 147 (98.6%) were successfully screened with the Cornell Assessment of Pediatric Delirium. Overall, 22.4% (n = 33) screened positive for delirium. Delirium was more commonly detected in children on invasive mechanical ventilation (67% vs 17%, P < .01) and those with underlying neurologic disorders (64% vs 13%, P < .01). A multivariate logistic regression revealed that neurologic disability and mechanical ventilation were both independently associated with a positive delirium screen (aOR: 12.3, CI: 4.5-33.6 and aOR: 9.3, CI: 2.5-34.6, respectively).

Conclusions: Our results indicate that delirium likely occurs frequently in term-equivalent infants in the NICU. Further research is necessary to establish feasibility, validity, and interrater reliability of delirium screening in this population.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Delirium* / diagnosis
  • Delirium* / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Intensive Care Units, Neonatal*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Prevalence
  • Prospective Studies
  • Reproducibility of Results