Is delirium a symptom of COVID-19 in older adults?

YES. As we continue to learn about COVID-19, we know that the disease can affect the body well beyond just lungs. Researchers have found that COVID-19 can also affect the brain as well. Delirium, also known as acute confusion, is being reported in more and more cases of COVID-19.

Maura Kennedy, M.D., MPH, Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, asserts COVID-19 poses the greatest risk to older adults aged 65+. Delirium can be an early symptom of COVID-19 in older adults and can have adverse outcomes.

In a 2020 study published in JAMA Network Open, Dr. Kennedy and colleagues presented results from a multicenter cohort study designed to investigate the frequency of delirium as a presenting symptom in older adults who come to the ER with COVID-19.

The researchers found that of the 817 older patients diagnosed with COVID-19, 28% of them had a common symptom of delirium. For those with COVID-19 and dementia, 16% had delirium as a primary symptom and 37% did not have typical COVID-19 symptoms.

Having access to the best evidenced-based care improves the quality of life for everyone.


Robert Friedland, M.D., director of the Cognitive Disorders Program, and Cathy Bays, nurse practitioner, are in the Department of Neurology with UofL Health – UofL Physicians. Dr. Friedland and Cathy specialize in the diagnosis and care of adults experiencing cognitive impairment, including memory.

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