Serum anticholinergic activity in hospitalized older persons with delirium: A preliminary study

J. R. Mach, M. W. Dysken, M. Kuskowski, E. Richelson, L. Holden, K. M. Jilk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the relationship between total serum anticholinergic activity (SAA) and the presence or absence of delirium in older hospitalized persons on general medical wards. DESIGN: Case-control study and within-subjects repeated-measures in recovered delirious patients. SETTING: Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Medical Center medical wards. PARTICIPANTS: Eleven male delirious patients (DSM-III-R criteria) aged 60 or older and 11 comparably aged male nondelirious controls. MEASUREMENTS: Radioreceptor bioassay of total SAA using tritiated quinuclidinyl benzilate (QNB) binding to muscarinic receptors. Results are expressed in terms of atropine equivalents (nM). MAIN RESULTS: Mean SAA was significantly elevated in the delirious group (mean ± SD = 6.05 ± 2.97 nM atropine equivalents) compared with the controls (3.38 ± 2.49; t(20) = 2.28, P < .05). At study entry, mean SAA was significantly higher in delirious subjects whose symptoms eventually resolved completely (mean ± SD = 7.77 ± 2.37) compared with subjects whose delirious symptoms persisted (3.99 ± 2.30; t(9) = 2.68, P < .05). All six patients in whom delirium resolved completely had a decrease in serum anticholinergic activity when measured during delirium (7.77 ± 2.37) and after symptom resolution (3.92 ± 2.61; t(5) = 3.29, P < .05). CONCLUSIONS: Our findings suggest that serum anticholinergic activity may play a role in delirium in medical inpatients. The relationships between SAA and delirium in medical patients and between total SAA and medication use warrant further study.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)491-495
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of the American Geriatrics Society
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1995

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology

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