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Age Ageing. 2006 Jul;35(4):350-64. Epub 2006 Apr 28.

Occurrence and outcome of delirium in medical in-patients: a systematic literature review.

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Academic Unit of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences, University of Leeds, 15 Hyde Terrace, Leeds LS2 9LT, UK.



Despite the acknowledged clinical importance of delirium, research evidence for measures to improve its management is sparse. A necessary first step to devising appropriate strategies is to understand how common it is and what its outcomes are in any particular setting.


To determine the occurrence of delirium and its outcomes in medical in-patients, through a systematic review of the literature.


We searched electronic medical databases, the Consultation-Liaison Literature Database and reference lists and bibliographies for potentially relevant studies. Studies were selected, quality assessed and data extracted according to preset protocols.


Results for the occurrence of delirium in medical in-patients were available for 42 cohorts. Prevalence of delirium at admission ranged from 10 to 31%, incidence of new delirium per admission ranged from 3 to 29% and occurrence rate per admission varied between 11 and 42%. Results for outcomes were available for 19 study cohorts. Delirium was associated with increased mortality at discharge and at 12 months, increased length of hospital stay (LOS) and institutionalisation. A significant proportion of patients had persistent symptoms of delirium at discharge and at 6 and 12 months.


Delirium is common in medical in-patients and has serious adverse effects on mortality, functional outcomes, LOS and institutionalisation. The development of appropriate strategies to improve its management should be a clinical and research priority. As delirium prevalent at hospital admission is a significant problem, research is also needed into preventative measures that could be applied in community settings.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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