Delirium Frequency and Risk Factors Among Patients With Cancer in Palliative Care Unit

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Delirium is a complex but common disorder in palliative care with a prevalence between 13% and 88% but a particular frequency at the end of life yet often remains insufficiently diagnosed and managed. The aim of our study is to determine the frequency of delirium and identify factors associated with delirium at palliative care unit.


Two hundred thirteen consecutive inpatients from October 1, 2012, to March 31, 2013, were studied prospectively. Age, gender, Palliative Performance Scale (PPS), Palliative Prognostic Index (PPI), length of stay in hospital, and delirium etiology and subtype were recorded. Delirium was diagnosed with using Delirium Rating Scale (DRS) and Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition Text Revision (DSM-IV TR) criteria.


The incidence of delirium among the patients with cancer was 49.8%. Mean age was 60.3 ± 14.8 (female 41%, male 59%, PPS 39.8%, PPI 5.9 ± 3.0, length of stay in hospital 8.6 ± 6.9 days). Univariate logistic regression analysis indicated that use of opioids, anticonvulsants, benzodiazepines, steroids, polypharmacy, infection, malnutrition, immobilization, sleep disturbance, constipation, hyperbilirubinemia, liver/renal failure, pulmonary failure/hypoxia, electrolyte imbalance, brain cancer/metastases, decreased PPS, and increased PPI were risk factors. Subtypes of delirium included hypoactive 49%, mixed 41%, and hyperactive 10%.


The communicative impediments associated with delirium generate distress for the patient, their family, and health care practitioners who might have to contend with agitation and difficulty in assessing pain and other symptoms. To manage delirium in patients with cancer, clinicians must be able to diagnose it accurately and undertake appropriate assessment of underlying causes.

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