Delirium an important symptom of COVID

Dublin doctor involved in key UK study
  • Deborah Condon

A doctor from Dublin is at the centre of a major UK study, which has made important findings in relation to COVID-19 in older people.

The researchers at King's College London have found that new-onset confusion or delirium is an important symptom of COVID-19 in older adults who are frail. In fact, in almost 20% of these patients, confusion may be the only presenting feature of the disease.

This, the researchers said, highlights the importance of the public being aware of confusion as a potential symptom of COVID-19 in older people.

The research involved Dr Mary Ní Lochlainn, who graduated from Trinity College Dublin Medical School in 2014. She is a specialist registrar in geriatric medicine and a doctoral fellow, undertaking a PhD at King's College London.

She recenly joined the research team at King's College London that is looking into the effects of COVID-19 in older adults

She said that this finding in relation to new-onset confusion or delirium "will be of particular importance in nursing homes where staff can look out for confusion or changes in behaviour among residents".

"Current guidance in Ireland does not include confusion as a symptom to prompt testing. Doctors and carers should look out for signs of confusion or strange behaviour in frail older people because it could be an early warning sign of COVID-19," she explaned.

The resarchers analysed data from 857 people over the age of 65. These included 322 patients in hospital with COVID-19, and 535 community-based people who were using an app to record symptoms or log health reports on behalf of friends and family.

All had received a positive COVID test result.

The researchers found that older adults admitted to hospital who were classified as frail were more likely to have had delirium as one of their symptoms, compared with people of the same age who were not frail.

For one in five patients in hospital with the virus, delirium was their only symptom.

Among over-65s using the app, delirium was also more common in people who were frail compared with more robust people of the same age with the infection.

Furthermore, one-third of users who said they had experienced delirium did not have the classic COVID symptoms of a fever or cough.

Possible delirium was defined as having any symptoms of confusion, disorientation or drowsiness.

"Even if they have no cough or fever, delirium is more common in vulnerable over-65s than other, fitter people of the same age," Dr Ní Lochlainn noted.

Details of these findings are published in the journal, Age and Ageing.


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