Delirium high in ICU patients, leads to death, morbidity

There are an estimated 6,000 intensive care units in the United States caring for approximately 55,000 patients daily. Between 60 percent to 80 percent of these patients develop a brain dysfunction known as delirium, which according to a group of physicians at Vanderbilt Medical Center is an independent predictor of mortality.

In the April 14 issue of "The Journal of the American Medical Association," E. Wesley Ely, M.D., associate professor of Medicine and Research, and his team provided the first documented study to include daily measurements of delirium in the Intensive Care Unit, pointing to longer hospital stays and a three-fold increase in death.

"The dilemma in critical care is that people often develop brain dysfunction or delirium in the ICU setting which is thought to be of no real importance to survival or long-term quality of life," Ely said. "Frankly, it's been overlooked by medical teams for years and is simply called 'ICU psychosis.'"

"Five years ago, we began studying delirium in the ICU at Vanderbilt, after realizing that older people are more frequently going to ICUs and the added risk of developing brain dysfunction was present."

The JAMA piece titled "Delirium as a Predictor of Mortality in Mechanically-Ventilated Patients in the Intensive Care Unit" is a culmination of the work to date, Ely said.

"We have found that using the most robust statistical methods available to adjust for the severity of illness, age, coma and drugs used for sedation, the development of delirium presents the patients with a 300 percent increased likelihood of dying by six months as compared to similar patients who didn't develop delirium," Ely said.

"All of this work is ultimately leading us down the path of delirium prevention and treatment," he said. "Right now there are no data from randomized trials proving the best treatment. Secondly, delirium is grossly under-recognized so even if we knew how to treat it, nurses and doctors

Contact: Clinton Colmenares
Vanderbilt University Medical Center

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