Should This Patient Receive Prophylactic Medication to Prevent Delirium?: Grand Rounds Discussion From Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

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In 2015, the American Geriatrics Society released recommendations for prevention and management of postoperative delirium, based on a systematic literature review and evaluation of nonpharmacologic and pharmacologic approaches by an expert panel. The guidelines recommend an interdisciplinary focus on nonpharmacologic measures (reorientation, medication management, early mobility, nutrition, and gastointestinal motility) for prevention and consideration of this strategy for acute management. They also recommend optimizing nonopioid medication as a means to manage pain and avoiding benzodiazepines other than to treat substance withdrawal. The authors concluded that evidence to recommend antipsychotics for prevention of delirium is insufficient but that these drugs may be considered for short-term treatment in the setting of imminent harm to the patient or caregivers or severe distress due to agitation. Patients should be given the lowest possible dose for the shortest duration when other nonpharmacologic measures have failed. In this Beyond the Guidelines, a psychiatrist and a geriatrician debate whether Mr. W, a 79-year-old man at high risk for postoperative delirium, should receive prophylactic antipsychotics with his next surgery. They review risk factors, appropriate evaluation, and potential benefits and harms of the various medications often used in this setting.

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