Introduction: Agitation, mental illness, and delirium are common reasons for older adults to seek care in the emergency department (ED). There are significant knowledge gaps in understanding how to best screen older adults for these conditions and how to manage them. In addition, in areas where research has been performed, implementation has been slow. A working group convened to develop a set of high-priority research questions that would advance the understanding of optimal management of older adults with acute behavioral changes in the ED. This manuscript is the product of a breakout session on “Special Populations: Agitation in the Elderly” from the 2016 Coalition on Psychiatric Emergencies’ first Research Consensus Conference on Acute Mental Illness.
Methods: Participants were identified with expertise in emergency medicine (EM), geriatric EM, and psychiatry. Background literature reviews were performed prior to the in-person meeting in four key areas: delirium; dementia; substance abuse or withdrawal; and mental illness in older adults. Input was solicited from all participants during the meeting, and questions were iteratively focused and revised, voted on, and ranked by importance.
Results: Fourteen questions were identified by the group with high consensus for their importance related to the care of older adults with agitation in the ED. The questions were grouped into three topic areas: screening and identification; management strategies; and the approach to delirium.
Conclusion: It is important for emergency physicians to recognize the spectrum of underlying causes of behavioral changes, have the tools to screen older adults for those causes, and employ methods to treat the underlying causes and ameliorate their symptoms. Answers to the identified research questions have great potential to improve the care of older adults presenting with behavioral changes.