Head computed tomography findings in geriatric emergency department patients with delirium, altered mental status, and confusion: A systematic review

Acad Emerg Med. 2023 Jun;30(6):616-625. doi: 10.1111/acem.14622. Epub 2022 Dec 5.


Background: Delirium, altered mental status (AMS), or confusion among older adults are common presentations to the emergency department (ED). We aimed to report the proportion of older ED patients presenting with delirium who have acute abnormal findings on head imaging. We also assessed whether anticoagulation, neurological deficits, trauma, or headache were associated with head imaging abnormalities in these patients.

Methods: A systematic review was performed using Ovid Medline, Embase, Clinicaltrials.gov, Web of Science, and Cochrane Central from conception to April 8, 2021. Citations were included if they described patients aged 65 years or older who received neuroimaging at the time of ED assessment for delirium, confusion, or AMS. Screening, data extraction, and bias assessment were performed in duplicate. The estimated proportion of patients with abnormal neuroimaging and odds ratios (ORs) for each predictor were calculated.

Results: The search strategy identified 3014 unique citations, of which six studies reporting on 909 patients with confusion or AMS were included. None of the studies formally diagnosed delirium. Overall, the proportions of older ED patients with AMS or confusion were found to have an abnormal head computed tomography (CT) was 15.6% (95% confidence interval [CI] 7.3%-26.2%). The prevalence of focal neurologic findings was 13.0% (66/506) and for anticoagulation was 9.8% (33/337) among the studies who reported them. The presence of a focal neurological deficit was associated with abnormal head CT (OR 101.8, 95% CI 30.5-340.1). Anticoagulation was not associated with abnormal head CT (OR 1.2, 95% CI 0.4-3.3). No studies reported on the association between headache or trauma and abnormal neuroimaging.

Conclusions: The proportion of abnormal findings on CT neuroimaging in older ED patients with AMS or confusion was 15.6%. The presence of a focal neurological deficit was a strong predictor for the presence of acute abnormality, whereas anticoagulation was not.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review
  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Delirium* / diagnostic imaging
  • Delirium* / epidemiology
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Headache* / diagnostic imaging
  • Headache* / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Neuroimaging
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed