Delirium is a common clinical syndrome defined as alterations in attention with an additional disturbance in cognition or perception, which develop over a short period of time and tend to fluctuate during the course of the episode. Delirium is commonly treated in hospitals or community settings and is often associated with multiple adverse outcomes such as increased cost, morbidity, and even mortality. The first-line intervention involves a multicomponent non-pharmacological approach that includes ensuring effective communication and reorientation in addition to providing reassurance or a suitable care environment. There are currently no drugs approved specifically for the treatment of delirium. Clinically, however, various medications are employed to provide symptomatic relief, such as antipsychotic medications and cholinesterase inhibitors, among others.
To evaluate the effectiveness and safety of cholinesterase inhibitors for treating people with established delirium in a non-intensive care unit (ICU) setting.
We searched ALOIS, which is the Cochrane Dementia and Cognitive Improvement Group's Specialised Register, on 26 October 2017. We also cross-checked the reference lists of included studies to identify any potentially eligible trials.
We included randomised controlled trials, published or unpublished, reported in English or Chinese, which compared cholinesterase inhibitors to placebo or other drugs intended to treat people with established delirium in a non-ICU setting.
We used the standard methodological procedures expected by Cochrane. The primary outcomes were duration of delirium, severity of delirium, and adverse events. The secondary outcomes were use of rescue medications, persistent cognitive impairment, length of hospitalisation, institutionalisation, mortality, cost of intervention, leaving the study early, and quality of life. For dichotomous outcomes, we calculated the risk ratio (RR) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs); for continuous outcomes we calculated the mean difference (MD) with 95% CIs. We assessed the quality of evidence using GRADE to generate a 'Summary of findings' table.
We included one study involving 15 participants from the UK. The included participants were diagnosed with delirium based on the Confusion Assessment Method (CAM) criteria. Eight males and seven females were included, with a mean age of 82.5 years. Seven of the 15 participants had comorbid dementia at baseline. The risk of bias was low in all domains.The study compared rivastigmine with placebo. We did not find any clear differences between the two groups in terms of duration of delirium (MD -3.6, 95% CI -15.6 to 8.4), adverse events (nausea, RR 0.30, 95% CI 0.01 to 6.29), use of rescue medications (RR 0.13, 95% CI 0.01 to 2.1), mortality (RR 0.10, 95% CI 0.01 to 1.56), and leaving the study early (RR 0.88, 95% CI 0.07 to 11.54). Evidence was not available regarding the severity of delirium, persistent cognitive impairment, length of hospitalisation, cost of intervention, or other predefined secondary outcomes.The quality of evidence is low due to the very small sample size.
There is insufficient evidence to support or refute the use of cholinesterase inhibitors for the treatment of delirium in non-ICU settings. No clear benefits or harms associated with cholinesterase inhibitors were observed when compared with placebo due to the lack of data. More trials are required.