Findings from a recent study published in JAMA Psychiatry have found a link between delirium and the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Delirium occurs when patients become confused and disoriented, and is prevalent in elderly patients. This new research from the University of Cambridge and University College London show that this delirium could have long-term detrimental effects that include accelerating the development of dementia.
Delirium may also be an indicator of the onset of dementia in patients who have not previously shown symptoms, so it is important that it be diagnosed in order to aid in psychiatric treatment.
Dr. Daniel Davis of the University of Cambridge addressed this connection, stating “If delirium is causing brain injury in the short and long-term, then we must increase our efforts to diagnose, prevent, and treat delirium. Ultimately, targeting delirium could be a chance to delay or reduce dementia.” Delirium is both preventable and treatable through proper geriatric care, meaning that if it is indeed connected to a faster decline in cognitive function, then early diagnosis is imperative.
Researchers studied 987 individuals aged 65 and older throughout the UK, Cambridge, and Finland, and reviewed their cognitive function, testing memory, thinking, and experience of delirium over 10 years. The reviews were linked to typical abnormalities caused by Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, and those who experienced delirium had a more severe change in memory.
Dr. Davis commented on these results, adding “Unfortunately, most delirium goes unrecognized. […] Patients can be transferred several times and staff often switch over – it requires everyone to ‘think delirium’ and identify that a patient’s brain function has changed.”
These findings show a link between delirium and cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, meaning that delirium may be a symptom or warning sign of imminent cognitive decline. More research should be conducted in order to develop more effective ways of diagnosing and treating delirium in order to help delay the progression of dementia and other memory damaging diseases.