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Source: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Brain-stimulating activities may reduce the length of hospital stays for dementia patients experiencing a state of confusion known as delirium, according to a study published in the December 2016 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Such activities can improve certain cognitive processes such as organization, working memory, and task management, collectively known as executive function, said Professor Ann Kolanowski, a principal investigator and primary author of the study, titled “Effective of Cognitively Stimulating Activities for the Symptom Management of Delirium Superimposed on Dementia: A Randomized Controlled Trial.”

“While cognitive stimulation did not reduce the delirium itself,  this type of intervention may help protect against future episodes by shoring up cognitive reserves,” Kolanowski said.

The study was a single-blind randomized controlled trial of cognitively stimulating activities provided daily to older adults with delirium superimposed on dementia (DSD) in eight post-acute care facilities, including hospitals, inpatient rehabilitation centers, and skilled nursing facilities. Activities, which were administered by trained research assistants, included discussing current events, generating lists of items, identifying photos of famous people, and even reciting the alphabet.

“Delirium, which is characterized by acute decline in cognitive function, can be deadly in older adults with dementia,” Kolanowski said. “It’s important to determine whether interventions in post-acute settings can improve clinical outcomes for those at highest risk. The interventions we tested may not only have a role in future delirium prevention trials, but also have implications for practice since executive function is crucial for independence.”

Accompanying the publication was an editorial by several leading delirium experts praising the study’s quality and potential for impacting the development of successful delirium treatment.

“This study is groundbreaking and highly significant for addressing a topic of utmost clinical importance,” the editorial stated. “By showing the potential for effective treatment of DSD, (the study) lays an important foundation for this future work.”

Donna Fick, Elouise Ross Eberly Professor of Nursing, also served as a principal investigator on the study. Additional contributors included Assistant Professors Nikki Hill, Jacqueline Mogle, and Andrea Sillner.