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Antipsychotic medications may be ineffective for treating or preventing delirium

In a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, researchers examined whether or not antipsychotic drugs, which are sometimes used to prevent or treat delirium, are effective. Delirium, a psychiatric syndrome that is the direct result of a medical problem, is a sudden change in ability to think and pay attention. It can cause people to become confused, potentially aggressive, agitated, sleepy, and/or inactive. Delirium also is a psychiatric syndrome that is a direct result of a medical problem.

Most often, delirium occurs in the midst of illness during admission to the hospital or after recovery from surgery. Factors that can contribute to delirium include:

  • Acute illness
  • Infection
  • Immobilization (not being able to get out of bed)
  • Medications
  • Underlying cognitive problems such as dementia

The researchers examined data from 19 different studies that included several thousand hospitalized patients. They reported that, when looking at all the causes of delirium, antipsychotic medications (treatments used for certain mental health conditions) did not lessen the number of new cases of delirium, and that using antipsychotic medication may not make much difference to the duration, severity, hospital length of stay, or mortality associated with delirium. However, the researchers caution that their findings may not cover particular situations where antipsychotics might prove useful for delirium treatment. More studies are needed in this area, say researchers.