Many patients with advanced serious illness or at the end of life experience delirium, a potentially reversible form of acute brain dysfunction, which may impair ability to participate in medical decision-making and to engage with their loved ones. Screening for delirium provides an opportunity to address modifiable causes. Unfortunately, delirium remains underrecognized. The main objective of this pilot was to validate the brief Confusion Assessment Method (bCAM), a two-minute delirium-screening tool, in a veteran palliative care sample.
This was a pilot prospective, observational study that included hospitalized patients evaluated by the palliative care service at a single Veterans’ Administration Medical Center. The bCAM was compared against the reference standard, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition. Both assessments were blinded and conducted within 30 minutes of each other.
We enrolled 36 patients who were a median of 67 years (interquartile range 63–73). The primary reasons for admission to the hospital were sepsis or severe infection (33%), severe cardiac disease (including heart failure, cardiogenic shock, and myocardial infarction) (17%), or gastrointestinal/liver disease (17%). The bCAM performed well against the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition, for detecting delirium, with a sensitivity (95% confidence interval) of 0.80 (0.4, 0.96) and specificity of 0.87 (0.67, 0.96).
Delirium was present in 27% of patients enrolled and never recognized by the palliative care service in routine clinical care. The bCAM provided good sensitivity and specificity in a pilot of palliative care patients, providing a method for nonpsychiatrically trained personnel to detect delirium.