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Postoperative Delirium

Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District

  • Translational Research Grants Scheme
Date Funded:
  • 13 June, 2019
Chief Investigator/s:
  • Professor Val Wilson

Older people undergoing surgery are at a high risk of experiencing delirium (up to 60%). Delirium is an acute, reversible, short-term confusion which presents as agitation and/ or reduced alertness. Untreated and undetected delirium leads to many health problems including falls, longer stays in hospital and sometimes death. Delirium can become a chronic health problem causing individuals to relocate into a nursing home and also develop dementia.

Much work is undertaken in hospitals to prevent, detect and treat delirium. However in the recovery area, where an individual is transferred immediately after surgery before they go to a ward, there is less evidence on delirium. During this project the research team will work with clinical staff in recovery units at Wollongong, St. George and Bega hospitals to improve delirium care.

This project will use interactive education to improve the prevention, detection and treatment of delirium experienced by older people after surgery. We will use role play scenarios of a delirium with clinical staff undertaking an assessment of the ‘actors’ to detect delirium and implement management strategies to treat delirium. This type of education is not yet commonplace in healthcare workplaces and will provide evidence for the effectiveness of this approach to improve delirium care.

The outcomes will be improved detection rates of delirium in recovery units, and thus better treatment of delirium and prevention of associated health problems. This will be achieved by improving staff skills in delirium care. The education goes beyond simply improving knowledge. Findings from this project can be applied by educators working in other clinical areas and expanded to any healthcare problem. Patients in NSW will receive better delirium care and experience less of the health problems associated with untreated and undetected delirium.