Mar 25, 2020
New Report Says Delirium “Most Common Medical Complication You Never Heard of,” Yet Poll Shows Older Adults Don’t Know the Risks, Precautions
85% of Providers Say Discussing Delirium Is Important; Only 4% of Patients Report Being Informed

En español | WASHINGTON—A new report from the Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH) notes that “delirium may be the most common medical complication you never heard of,” since half of people 65+ will experience it post-surgery. Worse, experiencing delirium increases the risk of dying in the next year, as well as increasing the risk for long-term cognitive impairment and dementia, yet most people are not at all familiar with delirium, according to new AARP research.

While delirium is common, its damage can be prevented or reduced through simple steps. The new report, “Preserving Your Brain Health During Illness or Surgery” includes helpful tips, like:

  • When preparing for surgery, “prehab” by getting adequate sleep and good nutrition and exercising like you are training for a sporting event.  
  • Ask for delirium screening prior to elective surgery.
  • Ask your caregivers to help you get up and moving as soon as possible, watch for sudden changes in your behavior and make sure you have all the equipment (such as glasses, hearing aids or dentures) that keep you oriented and alert, and
  • Bring familiar items to the hospital, such as family photos or a favorite blanket.

Additional recommendations from the GCBH can be found in two new infographics for individuals and health care providers.

“I’ve witnessed delirium in my own family and know how frightening it can be, both for the person experiencing it and their loved ones. It’s striking how few people are aware of the condition and its long-term consequences for brain health,” said Sarah Lenz Lock, AARP Senior Vice President for Policy and Executive Director of the GCBH. “I’m hopeful that this report will help more people recognize delirium and reduce how often and how severely older Americans are affected. By implementing simple, cost-effective measures, patients, caregivers and healthcare providers can help protect people’s brain health and save billions of health care dollars.”

Studies by AARP Research (1,015 adults age 50+ and 556 health care providers, conducted November 14-27) found significant gaps between what health care providers and individuals know about delirium. A majority of health care providers surveyed were very or extremely familiar with delirium, and 85% agreed that it should be discussed with patients prior to surgery or hospitalization. However, only 4% of people in AARP’s survey who had been hospitalized since age 40 were informed about the possibility of delirium. While health care providers are highly aware of delirium, the GCBH report notes that they may miss the signs, especially in cases where the patient’s main symptoms are drowsiness and inactivity.

“Delirium holds tremendous importance for maintaining brain health, and the report is jam-packed with practical examples, advice and recommendations on what to do to recognize, prevent, and manage this condition,” said Sharon K. Inouye, M.D., M.P.H., who contributed to the GCBH report as an issue expert. “This report will certainly be a must-read for my patients and family members before they come to the hospital.”

Click here to download a copy of “Preserving Your Brain Health During Illness or Surgery.” Previous reports from the GCBH on exercise, nutrition, sleep and other modifiable lifestyle factors that can help your brain and your heart at any age are available here.

The AARP Research surveys are available here.

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About AARP
AARP is the nation’s largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to empowering people 50 and older to choose how they live as they age. With a nationwide presence and nearly 38 million members, AARP strengthens communities and advocates for what matters most to families: health security, financial stability and personal fulfillment. AARP also produces the nation's largest circulation publications: AARP The Magazine and AARP Bulletin. To learn more, visit www.aarp.org or follow @AARP and @AARPadvocates on social media.

Media Contact: Amanda Davis, 202-434-7872, adavis@aarp.org, @AARPMedia