Evaluation of two delirium screening tools for detecting post-operative delirium in the elderly

Karin Jane Neufeld, J. S. Leoutsakos, F. E. Sieber, D. Joshi, B. L. Wanamaker, J. Rios-Robles, D. M. Needham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations


Background. Postoperative delirium in the elderly is common and associated with poor outcomes, but often goes unrecognized. Delirium screening tools, validated in postoperative settings are lacking. This study compares two screening tools [Confusion Assessment Method for the Intensive Care Unit (CAM-ICU) and Nursing Delirium Symptom Checklist (NuDESC)] with a DSM-IV-based diagnosis of delirium, conducted by neuropsychiatric examination in postoperative settings. Methods. Consecutive English-speaking patients, ≥70 yr, undergoing surgery with general anaesthesia and capable of providing informed consent, were recruited. Diagnostic test characteristics were compared for each screening tool vs neuropsychiatric examination, both in the Post-Anaesthesia Care Unit (PACU), and daily during inpatient hospitalization, adjusting for repeated measures. Results. Neuropsychiatricexaminationidentifieddeliriumin45%of91patientsevaluatedinthe PACU and in 32% of 166 subsequent delirium assessments on the ward in the 58 admitted patients. The sensitivity [95% confidence interval (CI)] of delirium detection of the CAM-ICU in the PACU, and in all repeated assessments was 28% (16-45%) and 28% (17-42%), respectively; for the NuDESC (scoring threshold ≥2), 32% (19-48%) and 29% (19-42%), respectively, and the NuDESC (threshold ≥1), 80%(65-91%) and 72%(60-82%), respectively. Specificity was >90% for both the CAM-ICU and the NuDESC (threshold ≥2); specificity for the NuDESC (threshold≥1), in the PACUwas 69%(54-80%) and 80%(73-85%)forall assessments. Conclusions.While highly specific, neither CAM-ICU nor NuDESC (threshold ≥2) are adequately sensitive to identify deliriumpost-operatively; NuDESC (threshold ≥1) increases sensitivity, but reduces specificity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)612-618
Number of pages7
JournalBritish journal of anaesthesia
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2013


  • Aged
  • Delirium
  • Neuropsychological tests
  • Perioperative period
  • Sensitivity
  • Specificity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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