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Sleep and Delirium in Older Adults.


Purpose of review

Poor sleep and delirium are common in older patients but recognition and management are challenging, particularly in the intensive care unit (ICU) setting. The purpose of this review is to highlight current research on these conditions, their inter-relationship, modes of measurement, and current approaches to management.

Recent findings

Sleep deprivation and delirium are closely linked, with shared clinical characteristics, risk factors, and neurochemical abnormalities. Acetylcholine and dopamine are important neurochemicals in the regulation of sleep and wakefulness and their dysregulation has been implicated in development of delirium. In the hospital setting, poor sleep and delirium are associated with adverse outcomes; non-pharmacological interventions are recommended, but tend to be resource intensive and hindered by a lack of reliable sleep measurement tools. Delirium is easier to identify, with validated tools available in both ICU and non-ICU settings; however, an optimal treatment approach remains unclear. Antipsychotics are used widely to prevent and treat delirium, although the efficacy data are equivocal. Bundled non-pharmacologic approaches represent a promising framework for prevention and management.


Poor sleep and delirium are common problems in older patients. While these phenomena appear linked, a causal relationship is not clearly established. At present, there are no established sleep-focused guidelines for preventing or treating delirium. Novel interventions are needed that address poor sleep and delirium, particularly in older adults.

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