Study finds severe COVID-19 infections can cause long-term delirium

Some COVID-19 patients who develop severe infections leading to hospitalization, including stays in the ICU, may experience long-term delirium, according to a new study from the University of Michigan's Michigan Medicine. The study involved around 150 people who were hospitalized with COVID-19 during the early days of the pandemic, the majority of whom ended up experiencing delirium.

Delirium is a cognitive issue in which someone is able unable to think clearly, often experiencing agitation and confusion. This issue can result for multiple reasons, including, potentially, the brain inflammation experienced during a COVID-19 infection. Of the 150 or so patients used in this study, 73-percent ended up with delirium.

The study found that COVID-19 patients who experience delirium were more likely to have comorbidities like diabetes and they tended to be sicker than other patients. In the case of SARS-CoV-2 and the resulting illness, multiple factors may lead to the development of delirium, the researchers note, including blood clots, stroke, lack of adequate oxygen, and brain inflammation.

Some of the methods used to help reduce delirium aren't suitable for many COVID-19 patients, unfortunately, such as allowing them to receive visitors or personal items from their homes. Compounding the issue may be the use of sedatives that are commonly used in cases of severe COVID-19, particularly among those who end up in the ICU on a ventilator.

The problems continue from there, with the study finding that around a third of the participants involved in the study still experienced delirium when discharged from the hospital; of those patients, 40-percent needed skilled nursing care after leaving the hospital. In some instances, the patients continued to experience delirium months after the infection, making this one of multiple long-term potential consequences of the pandemic.