Association between components of the delirium syndrome and outcomes in hospitalised adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Zoe Tieges, Terence Quinn, Lorn MacKenzie, Daniel Davis, GM Terrera, Alasdair M J MacLullich, Susan Deborah Shenkin

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Abstract / Description of output

Delirium is a heterogeneous syndrome with inattention as the core feature. There is considerable variation in the presence and degree of other symptom domains such as altered arousal, psychotic features and global cognitive dysfunction. Delirium is independently associated with increased mortality, but it is unclear whether individual symptom domains of delirium have prognostic importance. We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of studies in hospitalised adults in general settings to identify the relationship between symptom domains of delirium and outcomes.
(PROSPERO: CRD42018093935).

We searched MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, CINAHL, and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials from inception to November 2019. We included studies of hospitalised adults that reported associations between symptom domains of delirium and 30-day mortality (primary outcome), and other outcomes including mortality at other time points, length of stay, and dementia. Reviewer pairs independently screened articles, extracted data, and assessed risk of bias (Risk of Bias Assessment tool for Non-randomized Studies) and quality of evidence using the Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development and Evaluation framework. We performed random-effects meta-analyses stratified by delirium domain where possible.

From 7092 citations we included 6 studies (6002 patients, 1112 with delirium). Higher mortality (ranging from in-hospital to follow-up beyond 12 months) was associated with altered arousal (pooled Odds Ratio (OR) 2.80, 95% Confidence Interval (CI) 2.33-3.37; moderate-quality evidence), inattention (pooled OR 2.57, 95% CI 1.74-3.80; low-quality evidence), and in single studies with disorientation, memory deficits and disorganised thoughts. Risk of bias varied across studies but was moderate-to-high overall, mainly due to selection bias, lack of blinding of assessments and unclear risk of selective outcome reporting. We found no studies on the association between psychotic features, visuospatial deficits or affective disturbances in delirium and outcomes, or studies reporting non-mortality outcomes.

Few studies have related symptom domains of delirium to outcomes, but the available evidence suggests that altered arousal and inattention in delirium are associated with higher mortality than normal arousal and attention in people with or without delirium. Measurable symptom domains of delirium may have value in predicting survival and stratifying patients for treatment. We recommend that future delirium studies report outcomes by symptom domain.

Key words
Delirium, Mortality, Altered mental status, Arousal, Attention, Systematic review
Original languageEnglish
Article number162 (2021)
JournalBMC Geriatrics
Publication statusPublished - 5 Mar 2021


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