Patient Care

Bedside Attention Tests May Be Useful in Detecting Delirium


Clinical question: Are simple bedside attention tests a reliable way to routinely screen for delirium?

Background: Early diagnosis of delirium decreases adverse outcomes, but it often goes unrecognized, in part because clinicians do not routinely screen for it. Patients at high risk of delirium should be assessed regularly, although the best brief screening method is unknown. For example, the Confusion Assessment Method (CAM) requires training and is time-consuming to administer.

Study design: Cross-sectional portion of a larger point prevalence study.

Setting: Adult inpatients in a large university hospital in Ireland.

Synopsis: The study population (265 adult inpatients) was screened for inattention using months of the year backwards (MOTYB) and Spatial Span Forwards (SSF), a visual pattern recognition test. In addition, subjective/objective reports of confusion were gathered by interviewing patients and nurses and by reviewing physician documentation. Any patient who failed at least one of the screening tests or had reports of confusion was administered the CAM and then evaluated by a team of psychiatrists experienced in delirium detection.

Combining MOTYB with assessment of objective/subjective reports of delirium was the most accurate way to screen for delirium (sensitivity 93.8%, specificity 84.7%). In older patients (>69 years), MOTYB by itself was the most accurate. Addition of the CAM as a second-line screening test increased specificity but led to an unacceptable drop in sensitivity.

Hospitalists can easily incorporate the MOTYB test into daily patient assessments to help identify delirious patients but should be mindful of this study’s limitations (involved patients at a single institution, included assessment of only two bedside tests for attention, and completed formal delirium testing only in patients who screened positive).

Bottom line: Simple attention tests, particularly MOTYB, could be useful in increasing recognition of delirium among adult inpatients.

Citation: O’Regan NA, Ryan DJ, Boland E, et al. Attention! A good bedside test for delirium? J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2014;85(10):1122-1131.

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