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Dement Neuropsychol. 2017 Jul-Sep;11(3):270-275. doi: 10.1590/1980-57642016dn11-030009.

Delirium in the elderly: A systematic review of pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatments.

Author information

MD, Unidade Básica de Assistência à Saúde, Universidade de São Paulo - Campus de São Carlos, SP, Brazil.
MD, Departamento de Medicina, Centro de Ciências Biológicas e da Saúde, Universidade Federal de São Carlos, SP, Brazil.
MD, PhD, Departamento de Medicina, Centro de Ciências Biológicas e da Saúde, Universidade Federal de São Carlos, SP, Brazil.


in English, Portuguese

Delirium is a common disorder associated with poor prognosis, especially in the elderly. The impact of different treatment approaches for delirium on morbimortality and long-term welfare is not completely understood.


To determine the efficacy of pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatments in elderly patients with delirium.


This systematic review compared pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatments in patients over 60 years old with delirium. Databases used were: MEDLINE (PubMed), EMBASE, Cochrane CENTRAL and LILACS from inception to January 6th, 2016.


A total of ten articles were selected. The six non-pharmacological intervention studies showed no impact on duration of delirium, mortality or institutionalization, but a decrease in severity of delirium and improvement in medium-term cognitive function were observed. The most commonly used interventions were temporal-spatial orientation, orientation to self and others, early mobilization and sleep hygiene. The four studies with pharmacological interventions found that rivastigmine reduced the duration of delirium, improved cognitive function and reduced caregiver burden; olanzapine and haloperidol decreased the severity of delirium; droperidol reduced length of hospitalization and improved delirium remission rate.


Although the pharmacological approach has been used in the treatment of delirium among elderly, there have been few studies assessing its efficacy, involving a small number of patients. However, the improvements in delirium duration and severity suggest these drugs are effective in treating the condition. Once delirium has developed, non-pharmacological treatment seems less effective in controlling symptoms, and there is a lack of studies describing different non-pharmacological interventions.


delirium; elderly; non-pharmacological; pharmacological; systematic review

Conflict of interest statement

Disclosure: The authors report no conflicts of interest.

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