Acute confusion, which can triple the likelihood of death, is widespread among older people in hospitals and nursing homes but often goes untreated, according to new British and American research.
The condition - also known as delirium - is often undiagnosed, ignored or accepted as inevitable despite the fact it has an negative impact on people’s independence and mental processes, and significantly raises the risk of them developing dementia.
The research team, led by the Regenstrief Institute and Indiana University, reviewed 45 years of research covering almost 600 studies. The findings of the research, some of which was carried out at the University of East Anglia, is published in September’s issue of the Journal of Hospital Medicine.
With a third of delirium cases found to be preventable the researchers are calling for its early identification and treatment to improve people’s long-term prognosis.
The research showed more than 60% of delirium cases in general patient groups are not recognised or treated, with elderly patients leaving hospital in significant numbers with ongoing acute confusion that has been missed.
Among the measures that could prevent delirium were treating depression, getting rid of restraints, making sure patients have access to glasses and hearing aids and prescribing classes of antipsychotics that do not negatively affect the ageing brain, according to the research authors, who were led by Dr Babar Khan of the Regenstrief Institute and Indiana University School of Medicine.
A more sensitive screening tool for delirium, especially when used by a non-expert, were also needed, they said.