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BMC Med. 2017 Jul 27;15(1):140. doi: 10.1186/s12916-017-0899-0.

Epidemiology and outcomes of people with dementia, delirium, and unspecified cognitive impairment in the general hospital: prospective cohort study of 10,014 admissions.

Author information

Dementia and Ageing Research Group, Faculty of Social Science, University of Stirling, Stirling, FK9 4LA, UK.
Population Health Sciences Division, University of Dundee, Dundee, DD2 4BF, UK.
NHS Fife, Fife, Kirkcaldy, KY2 5AH, UK.
Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Population Health Sciences Division, University of Dundee, Dundee, DD2 4BF, UK.
Primary Care Medicine, Population Health Sciences Division, University of Dundee, Dundee, DD2 4BF, UK.



Cognitive impairment of various kinds is common in older people admitted to hospital, but previous research has usually focused on single conditions in highly-selected groups and has rarely examined associations with outcomes. This study examined prevalence and outcomes of cognitive impairment in a large unselected cohort of people aged 65+ with an emergency medical admission.


Between January 1, 2012, and June 30, 2013, admissions to a single general hospital acute medical unit aged 65+ underwent a structured specialist nurse assessment (n = 10,014). We defined 'cognitive spectrum disorder' (CSD) as any combination of delirium, known dementia, or Abbreviated Mental Test (AMT) score < 8/10. Routine data for length of stay (LOS), mortality, and readmission were linked to examine associations with outcomes.


A CSD was present in 38.5% of all patients admitted aged over 65, and in more than half of those aged over 85. Overall, 16.7% of older people admitted had delirium alone, 7.9% delirium superimposed on known dementia, 9.4% known dementia alone, and 4.5% unspecified cognitive impairment (AMT score < 8/10, no delirium, no known dementia). Of those with known dementia, 45.8% had delirium superimposed. Outcomes were worse in those with CSD compared to those without - LOS 25.0 vs. 11.8 days, 30-day mortality 13.6% vs. 9.0%, 1-year mortality 40.0% vs. 26.0%, 1-year death or readmission 62.4% vs. 51.5% (all P < 0.01). There was relatively little difference by CSD type, although people with delirium superimposed on dementia had the longest LOS, and people with dementia the worst mortality at 1 year.


CSD is common in older inpatients and associated with considerably worse outcomes, with little variation between different types of CSD. Healthcare systems should systematically identify and develop care pathways for older people with CSD admitted as medical emergencies, and avoid only focusing on condition-specific pathways such as those for dementia or delirium alone.


Cognitive impairment; Delirium; Dementia; Length of stay; Mortality; Readmission

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