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Prolonged activation EEG differentiates dementia with and without delirium in frail elderly patients
  1. C Thomas1,2,
  2. U Hestermann3,
  3. S Walther1,
  4. U Pfueller1,
  5. M Hack3,
  6. P Oster3,
  7. C Mundt1,
  8. M Weisbrod1,4
  1. 1
    Centre for Psychosocial Medicine, Department of General Psychiatry, University of Heidelberg, Germany
  2. 2
    Department of Geriatric Psychiatry, Centre of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy Ev Hospital Bielefeld-Bethel, Germany
  3. 3
    Bethanien-Hospital, Geriatric Centre of the University of Heidelberg, Germany
  4. 4
    Department of Psychiatry, SRH Klinikum, Karlsbad-Langensteinbach, Germany
  1. Dr C Thomas, Abteilung für Gerontopsychiatrie, Klinik für Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie Bethel-Evangelisches Krankenhaus Bielefeld, Bethesdaweg 12, 33617 Bielefeld, Germany; Christine.thomas{at}


Objective: Delirium in the elderly results in increased morbidity, mortality and functional decline. Delirium is underdiagnosed, particularly in dementia. To increase diagnostic accuracy, we investigated whether maintenance of activation assessed by EEG discriminates delirium in association with dementia (D+D) from dementia without delirium (DP) and cognitively unimpaired elderly subjects (CU).

Method: Routine and quantitative EEG (rEEG/qEEG) with additional prolonged activation (3 min eyes open period) were evaluated in hospitalised elderly patients with acute geriatric disease. Patients were assigned post hoc to three comparable groups (D+D/DP/CU) by expert consensus based on DSM-IV criteria. Dementia diagnosis was confirmed using cognitive and functional tests and caregiver rating (IQCODE, Informed Questionnaire of Cognitive Decline in the Elderly).

Results: While rEEG at rest showed low accuracy for a diagnosis of delirium, qEEG in DP and CU revealed a specific activation pattern of high significance found to be absent in the D+D group. Stepwise logistic regression confirmed that differentiation of D+D from DP was best resolved using activated upper alpha and delta power density which, compared with rEEG, enabled an 11% increase in diagnostic correctness to 83%, resulting in 67% sensitivity and 91% specificity. Among frail CU and D+D subjects, almost 90% were correctly classified.

Conclusion: Dementia associated with delirium can be discriminated reliably from dementia alone in a meaningful clinical setting. Thus EEG evaluation in chronic encephalopathy should be optimised by a simple activation task and spectral analysis, particularly in the elderly with dementia.

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  • Funding: UH received a 1 year research grant from the women’s support programme of the University of Heidelberg. CT received a habilitation grant from the Medical Faculty of the University of Heidelberg.

  • Competing interests: None.

  • Part of the study was presented at the Annual Convention of the German Association of Geriatric Psychiatry and Psychotherapy (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Gerontopsychatrie und-psychotherapie– DGGPP) 16 February 2007, Mannheim, Germany.