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Advancing delirium care through research

INDIANAPOLIS -- At least seven million hospitalized Americans suffer from delirium each year, however the condition goes unrecognized in more than 60 percent of patients. Even if diagnosed, there is no effective way to treat the condition, which is a growing concern to medical professionals.

Researchers, clinicians, and administrators from across the United States will meet in Indianapolis, June 5 - 7 for "Advancing Delirium Care through Research," the inaugural conference of the American Delirium Society, to discuss current and future research and therapy.

The scientific conference provides the first opportunity to share information on delirium as a threat to the health and independence of older adults. The meeting is hosted by the Regenstrief Institute and the Indiana University School of Medicine.

Delirium is a state of confusion in which the individual has undergone a sudden alteration of mental status. Delirium is not dementia, but individuals with dementia are more susceptible to developing delirium during hospitalization than individuals without dementia.

Many drugs frequently prescribed to older adults for a variety of common medical conditions including allergies, hypertension, asthma and cardiovascular disease appear to negatively affect the aging brain causing delirium.

"Having delirium prolongs the length of a hospital stay, increases the risk of post-hospitalization transfer to a nursing home, doubles the risk of death, and increases the vulnerability to Alzheimer's disease. We as a scientific community need to commit our research effort to protect the brains of older adults from the burden of delirium and set a goal of reducing the delirium burden by half within the next two decades," said Malaz Boustani, M.D., MPH., Regenstrief Institute investigator and IU School of Medicine associate professor of medicine.

Dr. Boustani is also an IU Center for Aging Research center scientist and the research director of the Indianapolis Discovery Network for Dementia and of the Healthy Aging Brain Center. A geriatrician who has published several research studies on delirium in hospitalized older adults, he is president-elect of the ADS and assumes presidency of the organization at the inaugural meeting.

"Since delirium affects older patients in the ICU, hospital, rehabilitation units and nursing homes, it needs to be monitored like other vital signs. A system should be put in place so that monitoring is routine for older patients," said ADS president James Rudolph, M.D., of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital.

For vulnerable older adults developing a urinary tract infection or taking an over-the-counter drug with anti-cholinergic effects (including many popular brands of sleeping pills) may lead to delirium. Less vulnerable individuals may require a more major insult, such as a stroke or heart attack, to trigger delirium.


Contact: Cindy Fox Aisen
Indiana University School of Medicine

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