Delirium in Older Adults With Cancer: Implications for Practice and Research

Deborah A. Boyle

ONF 2006, 33(1), 61-78. DOI: 10.1188/06.ONF.61-78

Purpose/Objectives: To provide a comprehensive review of the literature and existing evidence-based findings on delirium in older adults with cancer.

Data Sources: Published articles, guidelines, and textbooks.

Data Synthesis: Although delirium generally is recognized as a common geriatric syndrome, a paucity of empirical evidence exists to guide early recognition and treatment of this sequelae of cancer and its treatment in older adults. Delirium probably is more prevalent than citations note because the phenomenon is under-recognized in clinical practice across varied settings of cancer care.

Conclusions: Extensive research is needed to formulate clinical guidelines to manage delirium. A focus on delirium in acute care and at the end of life precludes identification of this symptom in ambulatory care, where most cancer therapies are used. Particular emphasis should address the early recognition of prodromal signs of delirium to reduce symptom severity.

Implications for Nursing: Ongoing assessment opportunities and close proximity to patients' treatment experiences foster oncology nurses' mastery of this common exemplar of altered cognition in older adults with cancer. Increasing awareness of and knowledge delineating characteristics of delirium in older patients with cancer can promote early recognition, optimum treatment, and minimization of untoward consequences associated with the historically ignored example of symptom distress.

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