06/22/2010 // West Palm Beach, FL, USA // Sandra Quinlan // Sandra Quinlan
West Palm Beach, FL—Medical professionals are on a mission to prevent and treat cases of “hospital delirium” in which patients experience hallucinations for unknown reasons. While doctors once deemed it somewhat typical for elderly patients to become confused during hospitalization, contemporary research has indicated that such episodes may be accompanied with negative consequences, according to a June 20, 2010 New York Times report.
Last year, 84-year-old Pulitzer Prize winner Justin Kaplan reported to Mount Auburn Hospital to be treated for pneumonia. During his stay, however, he experienced vivid and even disturbing hallucinations.
Kaplan described his delusions, stating, “Thousands of tiny little creatures, some on horseback, waving arms, carrying weapons like some grand Renaissance battle,” attempted to turn humans “into zombies.” The patient noted the leader of the creatures was female “with no mouth but a very precisely cut hole in her throat.”
Kaplan went on to fall from his hospital bed, cutting himself upon doing so. “A nurse was trying to restrain me and I repaid her with a kick,” Kaplan noted. His disquieting behavior subsequently prompted hospital personnel to call security for assistance.
As doctors began to treat his pneumonia, his delirium began to fade. According to Dr. Pacheco, who treated Kaplan, “A delirious patient happens almost every day… People don’t talk about it, because it’s embarrassing… They’re having sheer terror, like their worst nightmare.”
Kaplan’s wife, Anne Bernays, contended her husband “looked me in the eye and said ‘I’m going to kill you’… He didn’t know where he was and didn’t recognize me.”
The American Geriatrics Society estimated that approximately one-third of patients over the age of 70, experience hospital delirium. Intensive-care and post-surgical patients also have an increased tendency to endure such cognitive lapses.
Though the cause of hospital delirium, more often reported as “confusion,” remains unknown, doctors have become more aware of its potential triggers. These included infections, surgery, pneumonia, medical procedures such as catheter insertions, among others.
All of these cases and procedures have a tendency to incite apprehension in many elderly patients. Certain medications have also been linked to hospital delirium.
These neurological incidents have seemed to cause delays in scheduled operations and other procedures, thus prolonging hospital stays and increasing health care bills. Hospital delirium can also allegedly stall recovery from patients’ original ailments.
Additionally, patients who suffer from delirium tend to remain hospitalized an average of six days longer. There is also a 75 percent chance that they will be placed in nursing homes subsequent to their release.
Harvard Medical School professor, Dr. Sharon Inouye, found that 35 to 40 percent of patients who experience hospital delirium die within a year. Its victims also seem to be more likely to develop dementia later on in life.
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