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Delirium as a marker of vulnerability in the elderly

Giuseppe Bellelli, Paolo Mazzola, Alessandro Morandi
  • Giuseppe Bellelli
    Department of Medicine and Surgery, University of Milano-Bicocca, Milan; Geriatric Clinic, San Gerardo Hospital, Monza; European Delirium Association; Milan Center for Neuroscience (Neuro-Mi), Milan, Italy |
  • Paolo Mazzola
    Department of Medicine and Surgery, University of Milano-Bicocca, Milan; Milan Center for Neuroscience (Neuro-Mi), Milan, Italy
  • Alessandro Morandi
    European Delirium Association; Department of Rehabilitation and Aged Care, Hospital Ancelle, Cremona, Italy


Delirium is the clinical expression of an acute cerebral dysfunction caused by various noxious insults. Its prevalence is very high in the elderly, especially in the hospital setting, and in geriatric patients it can be the clinical manifestation of almost every acute disease. Delirium is associated to a number of adverse clinical and functional outcomes, to a higher risk of cognitive decline, institutionalization, and short- and long-term mortality. It is thus necessary to increase the attention on this issue: in fact, it is clearly demonstrated that delirium can be prevented in a large proportion of cases. Delirium is not only a marker of patient vulnerability and clinical instability, but also an index of the quality of care and the efficiency of its organization. By systematically assessing the presence of delirium during the whole length of hospital stay, physicians may closely monitor the patient’s clinical status. The aims of this review are to review the current clinical practice in delirium, focusing particularly on elderly individuals. The topics covered include epidemiology and outcomes, causes, clinical features and diagnosis, prevention and treatment. Finally, implications for clinical practice are discussed.


Delirium; elderly; diagnosis; prevention; management.

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Submitted: 2015-08-02 01:08:54
Published: 2015-11-24 13:49:59
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