Delirium experienced by older people with no other COVID-19 symptoms

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Delirium was a symptom in more than a quarter of older people admitted to emergency departments and eventually diagnosed with COVID-19, according to new research.

A good number of those admitted were asymptomatic, too, meaning for many, delirium was the only symptom they experienced.

And delirium is not a symptom commonly associated with COVID-19.

Published in the medical journal JAMA Network Open late last week, the study revealed that delirium diagnosis was the main presenting symptom for 16 per cent of such patients.

And just under four in 10 of those patients (37 per cent) had no other common COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever or shortness of breath.

The findings suggest that delirium may be a COVID indicator in patients who otherwise do not have any other typical symptoms related to coronavirus infection.

As at 19 November 2020, a total of 27,784 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Australia, including 907 deaths and 25,329 recoveries.

The median age of all cases is 37, and the median age of deaths is 86.

Properly diagnosing COVID-19 is crucial in older patients and the findings should change how healthcare professionals evaluate older patients for possible coronavirus infection.

The researchers say adults aged 65 and over presenting symptoms such as impaired consciousness, disorientation, inattention or disorganised thinking could actually be COVID cases.

“This study demonstrates that delirium is not only a common symptom of COVID-19, but also may be the leading and possibly sole symptom in older persons. Thus, delirium should be considered an important presenting symptom of COVID-19,” said senior study author  Dr Sharon K. Inouye.

The authors also said that delirium was a common symptom in older adults with severe disease who visited an emergency department, yet it went undetected in two-thirds of all cases.

Delirium is also associated with long-term cognitive decline in both surgical and nonsurgical patients.

Have you experienced any of these symptoms lately?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca is a voracious reader who loves words. You'll often find him spending time in galleries, writing, designing, painting, drawing, or photographing and documenting street art. He has a publishing and graphic design background and loves movies and music, but then, who doesn’t?

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