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J Am Geriatr Soc. 1989 Feb;37(2):150-4.

Acute confusion in elderly medical patients.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.


The acute confusional state (delirium) is a common presentation for a wide variety of medical conditions in the elderly. This paper reports a prospective study of acute confusion in elderly people admitted to general medical services in two acute care hospitals in Edmonton, Alberta. Eighty patients were studied, ranging in age from 65-91. Acute confusion was seen in one-fourth of these patients, who tended to be older, more ill, more likely to have chronic cognitive impairment and a higher mortality rate. In patients admitted with confusion, infection and congestive heart failure predominated. In those who developed confusion after hospitalization, iatrogenic disease was more common. Confusion was a sensitive sign of physical illness, and its resolution accompanied recovery. A diagnosis of the cause of the confusion state could be made in 22 of 24 cases. These findings support the aggressive investigation and treatment of acute confusion in the elderly.

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