Objective: Delirium duration is predictive of long-term cognitive impairment in intensive care unit survivors. Hypothesizing that a neuroanatomical basis may exist for the relationship between delirium and long-term cognitive impairment, we conducted this exploratory investigation of the associations between delirium duration, brain volumes, and long-term cognitive impairment.
Design, Setting, and Patients: A prospective cohort of medical and surgical intensive care unit survivors with respiratory failure or shock.
Measurements: Quantitative high resolution 3-Tesla brain magnetic resonance imaging was used to calculate brain volumes at discharge and 3-month follow-up. Delirium was evaluated using the confusion assessment method for the intensive care unit; cognitive outcomes were tested at 3- and 12-month follow-up. Linear regression was used to examine associations between delirium duration and brain volumes, and between brain volumes and cognitive outcomes.
Results: A total of 47 patients completed the magnetic resonance imaging protocol. Patients with longer duration of delirium displayed greater brain atrophy as measured by a larger ventricle-to-brain ratio at hospital discharge (0.76, 95% confidence intervals [0.10, 1.41]; p = .03) and at 3-month follow-up (0.62 [0.02, 1.21], p = .05). Longer duration of delirium was associated with smaller superior frontal lobe (−2.11 cm3 [−3.89, −0.32]; p = .03) and hippocampal volumes at discharge (−0.58 cm3 [−0.85, −0.31], p < .001)—regions responsible for executive functioning and memory, respectively. Greater brain atrophy (higher ventricle-to-brain ratio) at 3 months was associated with worse cognitive performances at 12 months (lower Repeatable Battery for the Assessment of Neuropsychological Status score −11.17 [−21.12, −1.22], p = .04). Smaller superior frontal lobes, thalamus, and cerebellar volumes at 3 months were associated with worse executive functioning and visual attention at 12 months.
Conclusions: These preliminary data show that longer duration of delirium is associated with smaller brain volumes up to 3 months after discharge, and that smaller brain volumes are associated with long-term cognitive impairment up to 12 months. We cannot, however, rule out that smaller preexisting brain volumes explain these findings.