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A smartphone-based test for the assessment of attention deficits in delirium: A case-control diagnostic test accuracy study in older hospitalised patients

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  • David J Stott
  • Robert Shaw
  • Lisa-Marie Rutter
  • Eva Nouzova
  • Nikki Duncan
  • Caoimhe Clarke
  • Jennifer H Barnett
  • Jonathan Evans
  • Samantha Green
  • Kirsty Hendry
  • Meigan Thomson
  • Jenny McKeever
  • Duncan G Middleton
  • Stuart Parks
  • Alexander J Weir
  • Tara Quasim

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Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0227471
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jan 2020


BACKGROUND: Delirium is a common and serious acute neuropsychiatric syndrome which is often missed in routine clinical care. Inattention is the core cognitive feature. Diagnostic test accuracy (including cut-points) of a smartphone Delirium App (DelApp) for assessing attention deficits was assessed in older hospital inpatients.

METHODS: This was a case-control study of hospitalised patients aged ≥65 years with delirium (with or without pre-existing cognitive impairment), who were compared to patients with dementia without delirium, and patients without cognitive impairment. Reference standard delirium assessment, which included a neuropsychological test battery, was based on Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5 criteria. A separate blinded assessor administered the DelApp arousal assessment (score 0-4) and attention task (0-6) yielding an overall score of 0 to 10 (lower scores indicate poorer performance). Analyses included receiver operating characteristic curves and sensitivity and specificity. Optimal cut-points for delirium detection were determined using Youden's index.

RESULTS: A total of 187 patients were recruited, mean age 83.8 (range 67-98) years, 152 (81%) women; n = 61 with delirium; n = 61 with dementia without delirium; and n = 65 without cognitive impairment. Patients with delirium performed poorly on the DelApp (median score = 4/10; inter-quartile range 3.0, 5.5) compared to patients with dementia (9.0; 5.5, 10.0) and those without cognitive impairment (10.0; 10.0, 10.0). Area under the curve for detecting delirium was 0.89 (95% Confidence Interval 0.84, 0.94). At an optimal cut-point of ≤8, sensitivity was 91.7% (84.7%, 98.7%) and specificity 74.2% (66.5%, 81.9%) for discriminating delirium from the other groups. Specificity was 68.3% (56.6%, 80.1%) for discriminating delirium from dementia (cut-point ≤6).

CONCLUSION: Patients with delirium (with or without pre-existing cognitive impairment) perform poorly on the DelApp compared to patients with dementia and those without cognitive impairment. A cut-point of ≤8/10 is suggested as having optimal sensitivity and specificity. The DelApp is a promising tool for assessment of attention deficits associated with delirium in older hospitalised adults, many of whom have prior cognitive impairment, and should be further validated in representative patient cohorts.

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