Recognition, Prevention, and Treatment of Delirium in Emergency Department: An Evidence-Based Narrative Review

From the American Journal of Emergency Medicine:


Delirium is an acute disorder of attention and cognition that is common, serious, costly, under-recognized, and potentially fatal. Delirium is particularly problematic in the emergency department (ED) care of medically complex older adults, who are being seen in greater numbers.


This evidence-based narrative review focuses on the key components of delirium screening, prevention, and treatment.


The recognition of delirium requires a systematic approach rather than a clinical gestalt alone. Several delirium assessment tools with high sensitivity and specificity, such as delirium triage screen and brief Confusion Assessment Method, can be used in the ED. The prevention of delirium requires environmental modification and unique geriatric care strategies tailored to the ED. The key approaches to treatment include the removal of the precipitating etiology, re-orientation, hydration, and early mobilization. Treatment of delirium requires a multifaceted and comprehensive care plan, as there is limited evidence for significant benefit with pharmacological agents.


Older ED patients are at high risk for current or subsequent development of delirium, and a focused screening, prevention, and intervention for those who are at risk for delirium and its associated complications are the important next steps.