CHICAGO, Jan. 9 (UPI) -- A new study has found that delirium affects nearly 18 percent of nursing home residents and has a one-year mortality rate of 40 percent.
Researchers from Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine found that delirium, a syndrome of altered mental status shown to produce disorganized thinking, deficits in attention and a fluctuating course, plays a significant role in mortality of nursing home patients.
"It is unclear whether delirium itself causes deterioration in brain functioning that ultimately can result in premature death, or if delirium is a symptom indicating a mind and body already in decline," Dr. Martin Forsberg, study author and assistant professor in the Department of Geriatrics & Gerontology at Rowan University of Osteopathic Medicine, said in a press release.
The symptoms of delirium usually last one week, but can take weeks or months to resolve. The symptoms are similar to dementia, resulting in misdiagnosis in nursing home residents.
"Avoiding non-essential surgery and hospitalizations may decrease the incidence of delirium," Forsberg said. "Maintaining hydration and minimizing medication exposure may also be an effective means to prevent delirium. Pain can lead to delirium, and we know managing it well can improve outcomes."
Certain environmental factors may play a role to causing delirium -- no clock or phone in a patient's room as well as the use of restraints all have been found to lead to disruptive behavior.
Families of nursing home residents can play an important role in recognizing changes in their family member that may point to delirium versus dementia.
"Osteopathic medicine focuses on the whole person -- which can include familial relationships," Forsberg said. "So when I hear a geriatric patient's family say, 'Mom is more confused than usual,' I tend to act. Dementia doesn't change suddenly and cause a worsened condition in a week, but delirium absolutely can."
The study was published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.