Increasing the recognition of delirium in elderly patients

J Am Geriatr Soc. 1994 Mar;42(3):252-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.1994.tb01747.x.


Objective: To determine if an educational intervention aimed at house staff will increase knowledge about and recognition of delirium.

Design: Before/after study, with blinding of participants to the intent of the study.

Setting: University hospital in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Patients: One hundred eighty-seven control patients, seen as consecutive admissions of elderly patients (65 + years) to the General Medicine services of the Victoria General Hospital prior to the educational intervention, and 247 patients seen thereafter.

Intervention: Educational intervention at grand rounds, housestaff rounds, sign-in rounds, and bedside teaching.

Measurements: Recognition of delirium in the admitting history or progress notes, Confusion Assessment Method (CAM) as recorded by nurses, diagnosis of delirium by independent study physicians using DSM-IIIR criteria and the Trzepacz Delirium Symptom Rating Scale.

Results: Prior to the intervention, delirium or acute confusion was diagnosed in 3% of patients; after the intervention, delirium or acute confusion was diagnosed in 9% of patients (P < 0.01). Other abnormalities in mental state were noted in 8.5% of admissions prior to the intervention, and 15.6% of admissions after the intervention. After the intervention there was a significant difference in the proportion of patients in whom a mental status questionnaire had been carried out and in whom there was formal comment on various aspects of the mental state. The nursing CAM had a sensitivity of 0.68 and a specificity of 0.97.

Conclusions: A simple educational intervention aimed at house staff appears to be effective in changing house staff behavior. Improved recognition of delirium may lead to better patient outcomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cognition
  • Confusion
  • Delirium / diagnosis*
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inpatients
  • Male
  • Medical Staff, Hospital
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales