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Ann Pharmacother. 2014 Mar;48(3):328-34. doi: 10.1177/1060028013513559. Epub 2013 Nov 18.

Early pharmacological treatment of delirium may reduce physical restraint use: a retrospective study.

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  • 1Spectrum Health, Grand Rapids, MI, USA.



Evidence surrounding pharmacological treatment of delirium is limited. The negative impact of physical restraints on patient outcomes in the intensive care unit (ICU), however, is well published. The objective of this study was to evaluate whether initiating pharmacologic delirium treatment within 24 hours of a positive screen reduces the number of days in physical restraints and improves patient outcomes compared with delayed or no treatment.


Patients from a mixed ICU with a documented positive delirium score using the Intensive Care Delirium Screening Checklist were retrospectively grouped based on having received pharmacologic treatment within 24 hours of the first positive screen or not. Primary end points were number of days spent in physical restraints and time to extubation after delirium onset. Secondary end points included hospital and ICU length of stay (LOS) and survival to discharge.


Two hundred intubated patients were either pharmacologically treated (n = 98) or not treated (n = 102) within 24 hours of the first positive delirium score. Patients receiving treatment spent a shorter median time in restraints compared with patients who were not treated (3 vs 6 days; P < .001), and had a shorter median time to extubation (3 vs 6.5 days; P < .001). The treatment group also experienced a shorter ICU LOS (9.5 vs 16 days; P < .001) and hospital LOS (14.5 vs 22 days; P < .001) compared with the no-treatment group.


Delirious patients who received pharmacological treatment within 24 hours of the first positive screen spent fewer days in physical restraints and less time receiving mechanical ventilation compared with those who did not. Although delirium management is multifactorial, early pharmacological therapy may benefit patients diagnosed with delirium.


ICDSC; Intensive Care Delirium Screening Checklist; antipsychotic; delirium; intensive care; mechanical ventilation; physical restraints; retrospective

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