Delirium costing lives and billions of dollars

Matt Woodley

18/09/2019 3:13:46 PM

A new study has laid bare the extent of an often overlooked problem that affects some of society’s most vulnerable.

Person with delerium.
An estimated 22,640 GP consultations were associated with delirium in 2016–17.

Published in BMJ Open, new research reveals delirium affected more than 132,000 Australians from 2016 to 2017, causing more than 900 deaths.
The authors also estimate the sometimes fatal medical condition, characterised by an acute decline in cognitive functioning that often occurs in a medical setting, was an $8.8 billion drain on the economy during this period.
Geriatrician and University of Melbourne Professor Kwang Lim told Fairfax a large percentage of the cost of delirium would be from long-term residential care or carer costs, and that he believes the study’s figure is potentially too low.
‘The key is to recognise that people are at risk and to put in interventions early, because once you get it, it’s really hard to reverse and the consequences are significant,’ he said.
‘We think there’s a potential to solve delirium, to work out what’s happening in the brain and to work out a cure for it, if we commit to it.’
Professor Lim also said it is good to see a paper raise awareness of delirium, given it is a common condition in hospital and can have major long-term consequences.
However, delirium is not limited to a hospital or aged care context, with an estimated 22,640 GP consultations associated with delirium occurring in 2016–17, at a cost of nearly $750,000.
Additionally, the paper states delirium causes an estimated 10.6% of dementia in Australia and that further research should focus on understanding the potential pathways from an episode of delirium to subsequent mortality and reduced cognitive functioning outcomes.
‘The results of this study highlight the need for concerted, worldwide efforts to mitigate the impacts of this clinically significant and costly medical condition,’ it states.
‘Overall, the costs of dementia attributable to delirium more than doubled the total costs of delirium in Australia in 2016–17.
‘There may be considerable opportunities to prevent some of the worldwide burden of dementia and improve the fiscal sustainability of health systems in the face of ageing populations.’
It also warned that, without further investment, the problem is likely to get worse.
‘Care for delirium following discharge from hospital relies heavily on informal carers, who provided almost one million hours of care to people with delirium,’ the authors wrote.
‘As workforce participation increases and the propensity to care declines, there is a risk that the care needs of people with delirium will either go unmet, or require additional government funding for aged care to meet their needs.’

aged care delirium dementa public health research

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