New research study shows impact of delirium for people with Parkinson’s in hospital

Parkinson’s UK funded research in Newcastle shows that people with Parkinson’s are more likely to experience delirium while in hospital. Often leading to a quicker loss of independence.

Delirium is a serious but often treatable condition that can suddenly start in someone who is unwell. People with delirium may appear confused, experience hallucinations, have difficulty following conversations or be unusually sleepy.

Some of these features are also symptoms of Parkinson’s, which can make delirium difficult to identify in people with Parkinson’s. Delirium can be very distressing for the person experiencing it and their loved ones.

In this Parkinson’s UK funded study, Dr Rachael Lawson, Janet Owens Parkinson’s UK Senior Research Fellow, and researchers at Newcastle University followed 121 people with Parkinson’s and 199 older adults without Parkinson’s who had had a hospital stay. They documented how many of these people experienced delirium during their time in hospital, and then how they had progressed over the 12 months following their visit.

What were the results?

2 out of 3 people with Parkinson’s who were part of the study experienced delirium during their hospital stay. Only 1 out of 3 older adults without Parkinson’s experienced delirium. It is unclear why people with Parkinson’s were at an increased risk of experiencing delirium.

The researchers also followed and compared people with Parkinson’s who had and had not experienced delirium while in hospital. They found that those who had delirium were 10 times more likely to need professional assistance, such as a stay in a care home or 24 hour home care, compared to those who did not have delirium. People with Parkinson’s who had experienced delirium in hospital were also more likely to have memory and thinking problems, such as dementia, in the next 12 months after leaving hospital.

What does this mean for people with Parkinson’s?

This research shows that people with Parkinson’s are more likely to experience delirium in a hospital setting, but it’s not always being spotted. This research reported a much higher percentage of delirium in people with Parkinson’s than has previously been recorded. But this could be because current tests to determine whether or not someone is experiencing delirium aren’t always suitable to assess people with Parkinson’s.

Dr Rachael Lawson said:

"We have found that delirium can have a serious effect on the lives of people with Parkinson’s and their loved ones. It is a distressing condition that is so often unrecognised and we are often unable to tell families what to expect in the future. 

"I hope that our study will help to pave the way to greater awareness of delirium in Parkinson’s and to the development of better tests. Recognising these distressing symptoms quickly could ultimately lead to better quality of life for people affected by Parkinson’s."

Dr Becky Jones, Research Communications Manager at Parkinson’s UK, said:

"This study highlights the urgent need for better ways of measuring delirium in people with Parkinson’s, and being able to treat it sooner. Missing signs of delirium in people with Parkinson’s can have serious consequences.

"Better tests to define and monitor delirium, that take into account symptoms of Parkinson’s, could potentially help avoid these adverse effects."

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