Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral Center

Delirium may accelerate cognitive decline in people with Alzheimer's disease

October 15, 2009

People with Alzheimer’s disease who had an episode of delirium experienced much faster cognitive decline than people with the disease who did not have delirium, a recent study shows. Delirium is a mental disorder characterized by restlessness, excitement, delusions, and/or hallucinations.

Scientists from Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital used data from the Massachusetts Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center’s patient registry to examine changes in cognitive performance over 15 years, in 408 older adults with Alzheimer’s, including 72 who developed delirium.

Among patients with delirium, the annual decline in cognitive skills accelerated to twice the rate before delirium. Across the entire study group, the rate of decline was three times faster in those who had delirium compared with those who did not. The researchers conclude that information from this study will provide a foundation for future studies to determine whether prevention of delirium might delay cognitive decline in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

Fong, T.G., et al. Delirium accelerates cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease. Neurology. 2009. 72:1571-75.

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