Understanding the role of delirium in dementia development

Read about a research project we funded into DECIDE: DElirium and Cognitive Impact in DEmentia.

Lead Investigator: Dr Sarah Richardson

Institution: Newcastle University

Grant type: Clinical Training Fellowship

Duration: 36 months

Amount: £217,232

Why did we fund this fellowship?

Comments from members of our Research Network:

'This sounds like a very thorough and detailed project'

'A well thought out and detailed proposal, set in a wider context of relatedresearch activity, which would contribute significantly to appropriate and informed medical care'

'I think this is a high priority. I am aware of so many cases where dementiaappears to have started following a hospital admission'

What do we already know?

Delirium is a medical word used to describe a change in brain function that makes a person become suddenly confused. It may also affect their behaviour and concentration. People who are affected can feel frightened, restless or suspicious. It is usually caused by an illness such as an infection and the symptoms can come on quickly and change from hour to hour.  It is very common, particularly among people with dementia, older people and those in hospital. People who have delirium while they are in hospital may have to increase their stay.

Delirium usually gets better within a few days to weeks but it can sometimes take several months for people to recover fully. The effect that delirium has on people with dementia is not well known. However, there is some evidence that delirium may cause permanent damage to the brain and may make people more likely to develop dementiain the future. For those who already have dementia, delirium may make their condition worse.

Previous work has shown that there are ways that doctors can prevent some cases of delirium or make the problem get better faster. 

What does this project involve?

The people to be approached in this project are part of a larger dementia study called the Cognitive Function and Ageing Study II (CFAS-II), which began in 2008. The CFAS-II study aims to investigate memory and dementia in a large number of people who are over the age of 65 and live in several areas across the UK. This project will follow up to 2,500 volunteers who live in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and have agreed to participate in memory tests every two years.

For this project, when a volunteer from the CFAS-II is admitted to hospital, the researchers will assess whether they have delirium. They will also contact a small number of the volunteers at home to ask whether they have experienced delirium without needing to go into hospital.

After a year, the researchers will ask the volunteers to take a memory test. They will compare the results of the test between people who experienced delirium in hospital to those who were at home or were not affected. They will use these results to assess whether those who have had delirium, either in hospital or at home, are more likely to be affected by memory problems.

How will this benefit people with dementia?

This research will help researchers to understand the role that delirium has with regards to dementia development or progression. If the research can find a link between delirium and dementia then steps can begin to be made to try to prevent some cases of delirium in people who are most at risk of its effects. 

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