Delirium, frailty and mortality: interactions in a prospective study of hospitalized older people

Melanie Dani, Lucy H Owen, Thomas A Jackson, Kenneth Rockwood, Elizabeth L Sampson, Daniel Davis

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Background: It is unknown if the association between delirium and mortality is consistent for individuals across the whole range of health states. A bimodal relationship has been proposed, where delirium is particularly adverse for those with underlying frailty, but may have a smaller effect (perhaps even protective) if it is an early indicator of acute illness in fitter people. We investigated the impact of delirium on mortality in a cohort simultaneously evaluated for frailty.

Methods: We undertook an exploratory analysis of a cohort of consecutive acute medical admissions aged ≥70. Delirium on admission was ascertained by psychiatrists. A Frailty Index (FI) was derived according to a standard approach. Deaths were notified from linked national mortality statistics. Cox regression was used to estimate associations between delirium, frailty and their interactions on mortality.

Results: The sample consisted of 710 individuals. Both delirium and frailty were independently associated with increased mortality rates (delirium: HR 2.4, 95%CI 1.8-3.3, p<0.01; frailty (per SD): HR 3.5, 95%CI 1.2-9.9, p=0.02). Estimating the effect of delirium in tertiles of FI, mortality was greatest in the lowest tertile: tertile 1 HR 3.4 (95%CI 2.1-5.6); tertile 2 HR 2.7 (95%CI 1.5-4.6); tertile 3 HR 1.9 (95% CI 1.2-3.0).

Conclusion: While delirium and frailty contribute to mortality, the overall impact of delirium on admission appears to be greater at lower levels of frailty. In contrast to the hypothesis that there is a bimodal distribution for mortality, delirium appears to be particularly adverse when precipitated in fitter individuals.

Original languageEnglish
JournalThe journals of gerontology. Series A, Biological sciences and medical sciences
Early online date1 Nov 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Nov 2017


  • Journal Article


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