Working Towards Fewer Delirium Cases


Delirium may be preventable among the elderly population, according to an abstract presented at the 2016 SHM annual meeting.1

The development of delirium involves an interrelationship between predisposing factors and precipitating factors in vulnerable patients. In 2015, a pilot project was conducted at Guthrie Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre, Penn., that included post-orthopedic surgery patients 60 years of age and older and patients with dementia at baseline cognitive function on admission.

The focus was on managing five risk factors: cognitive impairment, sleep deprivation, immobility, visual/hearing impairment, and medications. The nurses and residents caring for the patients were educated about methods that were proven to decrease the incidence of delirium. These include:

  • Using clocks and blinds to help restore circadian balance
  • Encouraging cognitive stimulation and regular visits from family and friends
  • Facilitating physiologic sleep with avoidance of interruption during sleeping hours
  • Initiating early mobilization and minimizing use of physical restraints

The result? In the pre-intervention group, 48% of the patients were found to have delirium with different precipitating factors. In the post-intervention group, the incidence decreased to 26.9%.

“This project was undertaken to increase the awareness of a non-costly, easy, and available intervention to prevent delirium,” says lead author Marcelle Meseeha, MD, a hospitalist at Guthrie Robert Packer Hospital. “Post-intervention study showed that the incidence of delirium has significantly decreased applying simple interventions. These familiar practices should be a mandatory process or a reminder in electronic health records. Also, education of providers and nursing staff must be an ongoing process. This will help reduce the incidence of delirium with its deleterious sequelae.” TH


  1. Meseeha M, Attia M. Ways to reduce incidence of hospital ward-acquired delirium; a quality improvement project [abstract]. J Hosp Med. 2016;11(suppl 1). Accessed July 18, 2016.

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