BACKGROUND: Postoperative delirium in the elderly, measured days after surgery, is associated with significant negative clinical outcomes. In this study, we evaluated the prevalence and in-hospital outcomes of delirium diagnosed immediately after general anesthesia and surgery in elderly patients.
METHODS: Consecutive English-speaking surgical candidates, aged 70 years or older, were prospectively enrolled during July to August 2010. After surgery, each participant was evaluated for a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV diagnosis of delirium in the postanesthesia care unit (PACU) and repeatedly thereafter while hospitalized. Delirium in the PACU was evaluated for an independent association with change in cognitive function from preoperative baseline testing and discharge disposition.
RESULTS: Ninety-one (58% female) patients, 78% of whom were living independently before surgery, were found to have a prevalence of delirium in the PACU of 45% (41/91); 74% (14/19) of all delirium episodes detected during subsequent hospitalization started in the PACU. Early delirium was independently associated with impaired cognition (i.e., decreased category word fluency) relative to presurgery baseline testing (adjusted difference [95% confidence interval] for change in T-score: −6.02 [−10.58 to −1.45]; P = 0.01). Patients whose delirium had resolved by postoperative day 1 showed negative outcomes that were intermediate in severity between those who were never delirious during hospitalization and those whose delirium in the PACU persisted after transfer to hospital wards (adjusted probability [95% confidence interval] of discharge to institution: 3% [0%–10%], 26% [1%–51%], 39% [0%–81%] for the 3 groups, respectively).
CONCLUSIONS: Delirium in the PACU is common, but not universal. It is associated with subsequent delirium on the ward, and potentially with a decline in cognitive function and increased institutionalization at hospital discharge.