Though fever and respiratory problems are typically the most common symptoms of COVID-19, worrisome neurologic symptoms also occur in older adults. For example, in a study in Wuhan, China, 36 percent of older COVID patients had neurologic complaints, such as dizziness, pain, sleep disturbances, and problems with balance. Eight percent had impaired consciousness.
What’s more, geriatrics experts suggest that older age is also a risk factor for delirium, a term that means “sudden confusion.” Delirium refers to an abrupt, rapid change in mental function that goes well beyond the typical forgetfulness of aging. The result of abnormal functioning of the brain, delirium requires the attention of a healthcare professional.
Healthcare practitioners have seen delirium affect patients hospitalized with infectious diseases, including severe respiratory diseases. Delirium can mean that a person has suffered an acute brain failure, which could be caused by dehydration, psychoactive drugs, or infection. Delirium can increase the length of an older adult’s hospital stay and can cause mobility problems as well as difficulty thinking and making decisions. This can lead to older adults’ need for long-term care and raises their risk of death.
In severe cases, COVID-19 causes serious lung problems. When this happens to someone hospitalized for the virus, the patient may need mechanical ventilation to help them breathe, which can lead to delirium.
A recent study showed that 26 out of 40 patients with severe COVID-19 infection had signs of delirium. But despite this early evidence, we know little about the effects of delirium on people with COVID-19. A team of geriatrics experts from the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, created a study to learn more about delirium in older adults hospitalized with COVID-19. Their study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.