The Danger of Postoperative Delirium in Older Adults

From the American Geriatrics Society.

Delirium is an acute decline in cognitive function and attention and represents acute brain failure. Postoperative delirium is recognized as the most common surgical complication in older adults, occurring in 5% to 50% of older patients after an operation. One-third of all inpatient operations in the United States are performed on patients 65 years or older.

Delirium is a serious complication for older adults because an episode of delirium can initiate a cascade of deleterious clinical events, including other major postoperative complications, prolonged hospitalization, loss of functional independence, reduced cognitive function, and death.

The annual cost of delirium in the United States is estimated to be $150 billion. Delirium is preventable in up to 40% of patients.

Delirium diagnosis and treatment are essential components of optimal surgical care of older adults, yet the topic of delirium is under-represented in surgical teaching.

Health care professionals are familiar with managing organ dysfunction in organs such as the kidneys and lungs in the perioperative setting, but are less familiar with caring for brain dysfunction despite its increasing clinical impact.