Practical assessment of delirium in palliative care.

M M Leonard, Cheryl Nekolaichuk, D Meagher, C Barnes, D Gaudreau, S Watanabe, Meera Agar, S H Bush, P Lawlor

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    38 Citations (Scopus)


    Context Delirium is a common, distressing neuropsychiatric complication for patients in palliative care settings, where the need to minimize burden yet accurately assess delirium is hugely challenging. Objectives This review focused on the optimal clinical and research application of delirium assessment tools and methods in palliative care settings. Methods In addition to multidisciplinary input from delirium researchers and other relevant stakeholders at an international meeting, we searched PubMed (1990-2012) and relevant reference lists to identify delirium assessment tools used either exclusively or partly in the context of palliative care. Results Of the 26 delirium scales identified, we selected six for in-depth review: three screening tools, two severity measures, and one research tool for neuropsychological assessment of delirium. These tools differed regarding intended use, ease of use, training requirements, psychometric properties, and validation in or suitability for palliative care populations. The Nursing Delirium Screening Scale, Single Question in Delirium, or Confusion Assessment Method, ideally with a brief attention test, can effectively screen for delirium. Favoring inclusivity, use of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV criteria gives the best results for delirium diagnosis. The Revised Delirium Rating Scale and the Memorial Delirium Assessment Scale are the best available options for monitoring severity, and the Cognitive Test for Delirium provides detailed neuropsychological assessment for research purposes. Conclusion Given the unique characteristics of patients in palliative care settings, further contextually sensitive studies of delirium assessment are required in this population.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)176-190
    Number of pages15
    JournalJournal of Pain and Symptom Management
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Aug 2014


    • assessment
    • Delirium
    • diagnosis
    • palliative care
    • rating scales
    • screening


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