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As Canada’s population ages, frailty – with its increased risk of functional decline, deterioration in health status, and death – will become increasingly common. The physiology of frailty reflects its multisystem, multi-organ origins. About a quarter of Canadians over age 65 are frail, increasing to over half in those older than 85. Our health care system is organized around single-organ systems, impairing our ability to effectively treat people having multiple disorders and functional limitations. To address frailty, we must recognize when it occurs, increase awareness of its significance, develop holistic models of care, and generate better evidence for its treatment. Recognizing how frailty impacts lifespan will allow for integration of care goals into treatment options. Different settings in the Canadian health care system will require different strategies and tools to assess frailty. Given the magnitude of challenges frailty poses for the health care system as currently organized, policy changes will be essential.
In this prospective cohort of 71 elderly patients undergoing cardiac surgery, each subject was interviewed before and after surgery to detect incident delirium using the Confusion Assessment Method (CAM), the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), the Clock Test, and a health record review. The first 41 were assessed by a physician and the remaining 30 by two study nurses. Delirium was then diagnosed by a physician using DSM-III-R criteria. Delirium was present in 23 subjects (32.4%). The sensitivity of the CAM differed significantly when administered by physicians compared to nurses (1.00 vs. .13). When standard cutoffs were used, neither the MMSE nor the Clock Test were found to be sensitive markers for delirium (.30 and .09, respectively). Recognition of delirium by charting was superior in nurses compared to physicians (.83 vs. .30). We conclude that the sensitivity of markers for delirium, such as the CAM and health record documentation, is dependent on the training background of the operator.
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