Delirium in Hospitalized Patients Predicts Long-term Cognitive Decline

BOSTON — Evidence suggests that experiencing delirium after surgery can lead to long-term cognitive decline in older adults. However, not everyone who experiences delirium will suffer this fate. After a recent study, researchers at Hebrew SeniorLife’s Institute for Aging Research and Brigham and Women’s Channing Division of Network Medicine (both Harvard Medical School affiliates) have discovered that we can predict cognitive decline after postoperative delirium using pre-surgery information from patients, particularly information on pre-surgery cognitive function.

The study, which was published today in the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, was only an initial look at this issue, however scientists say this is the first step in identifying causes for cognitive decline after delirium. Delirium, an acute state of confusion, is a common condition affecting up to 50% of hospitalized older adults, which not only leads to cognitive impairment, but can also lead to institutionalization and even death. Those study participants who scored higher on cognitive function tests prior to developing delirium were less likely to experience cognitive decline after delirium than those who scored lower.

“Predicting who is likely to develop long-term cognitive decline following delirium is highly important clinically and this study reinforces the need for strategies to prevent delirium following surgery in vulnerable older adults” said Dr. Sharon Inouye, Senior author for the study and Director of Hebrew SeniorLife’s Aging Brain Center at the Institute for Aging Research. Dr. Elizabeth Devore from the Channing Division of Network Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Dr. Richard Jones from Brown University were the first and senior authors on the study.

This work was supported by the National Institute on Aging (P01AG031720 and K07Ag041835 to S.K.I.; R01AG044518 to S.K.I./R.N.J.; and R01AG030618, K24AG035075, and R01AG051658 to E.R.M.). S.K.I. holds the Milton and Shirley F. Levy Family Chair.

About the Institute for Aging Research

Scientists at the Institute for Aging Research seek to transform the human experience of aging by conducting research that will ensure a life of health, dignity and productivity into advanced age. The Institute carries out rigorous studies that discover the mechanisms of age-related disease and disability; lead to the prevention, treatment and cure of disease; advance the standard of care for older people; and inform public decision-making. The Aging Brain Center within IFAR studies cognitive aging and conditions affecting brain health.

About Hebrew SeniorLife

Hebrew SeniorLife, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, is a national senior services leader uniquely dedicated to rethinking, researching and redefining the possibilities of aging. Founded in Boston in 1903, the nonprofit, non-sectarian organization today provides communities and health care for seniors, research into aging, and education for geriatric care providers. For more information about Hebrew SeniorLife, visit, follow us on Twitter @H_SeniorLife, like us on Facebook or read our blog.