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A quarter of older people admitted to hospital experience delirium.

£2.5 million to improve treatment of delirium in hospitals

A new £2.5 million research programme led by the University of Exeter will find new ways to help people recover from delirium after hospital stays, which could stop dementia symptoms getting worse.

A quarter of older people admitted to hospital experience delirium, a feeling of confusion often brought on by a medical condition such as an infection. Particularly common in people with dementia, it is highly distressing, and recovery can be slow, meaning long periods of inactivity. Some people never recover, and dementia symptoms can get worse as a result of delirium. Despite its prevalence, little research exists on how to improve people’s recovery from delirium.

Now, the new funding from the National Institute for Health Research will facilitate a programme of research led by the University of Exeter, the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust, and PenARC (NIHR ARC South West Peninsula). They will work with experts and patients at six NHS sites across the country, to develop, then test a programme to aid recovery.

The study, entitled ‘Development and testing of an intervention to improve Recovery after an Episode of Delirium’ (RecoverED) is led by Professor Louise Allan, of the University of Exeter. She said: “Delirium is extremely common and leaves people incredibly vulnerable, yet so far there’s surprisingly little research to aid recovery. Our trial is the largest ever to find a way to support recovery and help ensure an encounter with delirium doesn’t lead to a worsening of symptoms long-term.”

The study will test out measures including physical exercise, engaging with brain-stimulating activities such as puzzles and games, and emotional support.

Professor Vicki Goodwin, Associate Professor in Ageing and Rehabilitation for NIHR PenARC said: "I am very excited to be involved in this study that will develop and evaluate a multidisciplinary rehabilitation programme for older people recovering from delirium that spans both hospital and community care. This is a group of patients that often have poor outcomes and as a physiotherapist, an area where, to date, we have struggled to know what best to do. This research will help us better care for our patients."

The trial will take place in Exeter, and also involves universities and health trusts in Birmingham, Newcastle, Nottingham, Edinburgh and London, the six sites where the programme will be tested, before it is rolled out further.  The study is also supported by Winchester University and dementia charity Innovations in Dementia and the trial will be centrally co-ordinated by the Exeter Clinical Trials Unit.

Date: 29 September 2021

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