Predisposing and precipitating factors for delirium in neurology: a prospective cohort study of 1487 patients

  • Carl Moritz ZipserEmail author
  • Jeremy Deuel
  • Jutta Ernst
  • Maria Schubert
  • Michael Weller
  • Roland von Känel
  • Soenke Boettger
Original Communication



Predisposing and precipitating factors for delirium are well known; however, their interaction and impact on delirium in neurological patients remains largely unknown. Therefore, those factors were evaluated in hospitalized patients with neurological disorders.


In this prospective cohort study, 1487 neurological patients were included, 356 patients with delirium and 1131 without delirium. Relevant neurological- and medical-related clusters were assessed with multiple regression analyses, prediction models, and cluster analysis evaluating their association with delirium.


The 1-year incidence of delirium in this cohort was 23.9%. Delirium developed in 31% of patients with stroke, in 39.5% with epilepsy, and in 58.4% with ICH. The most relevant predisposing factors were substance-use disorders (OR 4.24, 2.28–7.78, p < 0.001), advanced age (OR 3.44, CI 2.40–4.92, p < 0.001), and neurodegenerative disorders (OR 2.58, CI 1.47–4.54, p = 0.001). The most relevant precipitating factors were meningitis (OR 21.52, CI 1.22–379.83, p = 0.036), acute renal failure (OR 10.01, CI 1.13–88.73, p = 0.039), and intracranial hemorrhage (OR 3.62, CI 2.08–6.30, p < 0.001). Delirious patients were hospitalized 6 days longer, had higher in-hospital mortality, and were discharged more often to nursing homes and rehabilitation. Best predictor for delirium was the coexistence of advanced age with epilepsy (58.3%, p < 0.001), while patients aged < 65 years without epilepsy and stroke rarely developed delirium (5.1%, p < 0.001).


Delirium is common in elder neurological patients and associated with worse outcome. Primary cerebral conditions most frequently precipitate delirium in neurology. Neurologists are advised to monitor symptoms of delirium in the presence of risk factors to enable both timely diagnostic work-up and management of delirium.


Delirium Neurology Risk factor Neuropsychiatry 



Charlson comorbidity index


Central nervous system


Delirium Observation Screening Scale


Intracerebral hemorrhage


Intensive-care unit


Length of stay


Stroke unit


Author contributions

CMZ: design and conceptualized study; analyzed the data; drafted the manuscript for intellectual content. JD: major role in the analysis and of data and data bank management, and revised the manuscript for intellectual content. JE: interpreted the data; revised the manuscript for intellectual content. MS: Interpreted the data; revised the manuscript for intellectual content. MW: interpreted the data; revised the manuscript for intellectual content. RK: interpreted the data; revised the manuscript for intellectual content. SB: design and conceptualized study; analyzed the data; drafted the manuscript for intellectual content.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflicts of interest



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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry and Psychosomatic Medicine, University Hospital ZurichUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  2. 2.Department of Neurology and Neurophysiology, Balgrist University HospitalUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  3. 3.Department of HematologyUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  4. 4.Stem Cell InstituteUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK
  5. 5.Institute of Nursing ScienceUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  6. 6.School of Health ProfessionsZurich University of Applied ScienceWinterthurSwitzerland
  7. 7.Department of NeurologyUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland

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