Delirium in Elderly Patients: Evaluation and Management

Teresa A. Rummans, Jonathan M. Evans, Lois E. Krahn, Kevin C. Fleming

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Scopus citations


To review the evaluation and management of delirium in elderly patients for primary-care providers. We summarize the clinical features, course, pathophysiologic aspects, predisposing factors, causes, and differential diagnosis of delirium and discuss approaches to affected patients and various management strategies. Delirium, an altered mental state, occurs more frequently in elderly than in younger patients. The pathophysiologic changes associated with aging and the higher occurrence of multiple medical problems and need for medications contribute to the higher frequency of delirium in elderly patients. Evaluation should begin with a consideration of the most common causes, such as a change in or addition to prescribed medications, a withdrawal from alcohol or other sedative-hypnotic drugs, an infection, or a sudden change in neurologic, cardiac, pulmonary, or metabolic state. Finally, management of delirium is threefold: (1) identifying and treating underlying causes, (2) nonpharmacologic interventions, and (3) pharmacologic therapies to manage symptoms of delirium. Elderly patients frequently experience delirium. Delirious symptoms can produce devastating consequences if they are not recognized and appropriately treated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)989-998
Number of pages10
JournalMayo Clinic proceedings
Issue number10
StatePublished - Jan 1 1995


  • DSM-IV
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition
  • EEG
  • GABA
  • HIV
  • MMSE
  • Mini-Mental State Examination
  • electroencephalographic
  • human immunodeficiency virus
  • γaminobutyric acid

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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