Association between baseline cognitive impairment and postoperative delirium in elderly patients undergoing surgery for adult spinal deformity

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Postoperative delirium is common in elderly patients undergoing spine surgery and is associated with a longer and more costly hospital course, functional decline, postoperative institutionalization, and higher likelihood of death within 6 months of discharge. Preoperative cognitive impairment may be a risk factor for the development of postoperative delirium. The aim of this study was to investigate the relationship between baseline cognitive impairment and postoperative delirium in geriatric patients undergoing surgery for degenerative scoliosis.


Elderly patients 65 years and older undergoing a planned elective spinal surgery for correction of adult degenerative scoliosis were enrolled in this study. Preoperative cognition was assessed using the validated Saint Louis University Mental Status (SLUMS) examination. SLUMS comprises 11 questions, with a maximum score of 30 points. Mild cognitive impairment was defined as a SLUMS score between 21 and 26 points, while severe cognitive impairment was defined as a SLUMS score of ≤ 20 points. Normal cognition was defined as a SLUMS score of ≥ 27 points. Delirium was assessed daily using the Confusion Assessment Method (CAM) and rated as absent or present on the basis of CAM. The incidence of delirium was compared in patients with and without baseline cognitive impairment.


Twenty-two patients (18%) developed delirium postoperatively. Baseline demographics, including age, sex, comorbidities, and perioperative variables, were similar in patients with and without delirium. The length of in-hospital stay (mean 5.33 days vs 5.48 days) and 30-day hospital readmission rates (12.28% vs 12%) were similar between patients with and without delirium, respectively. Patients with preoperative cognitive impairment (i.e., a lower SLUMS score) had a higher incidence of postoperative delirium. One- and 2-year patient reported outcomes scores were similar in patients with and without delirium.


Cognitive impairment is a risk factor for the development of postoperative delirium. Postoperative delirium may be associated with decreased preoperative cognitive reserve. Cognitive impairment assessments should be considered in the preoperative evaluations of elderly patients prior to surgery.

ABBREVIATIONS CAM = Confusion Assessment Method; MMSE = Mini–Mental State Examination; SLUMS = Saint Louis University Mental Status; SNF = skilled nursing facility.

Article Information

Correspondence Owoicho Adogwa, Department of Neurosurgery, Rush University Medical Center, 1725 W Harrison, Ste. 855, Chicago, IL, 60612. email:

INCLUDE WHEN CITING Published online November 10, 2017; DOI: 10.3171/2017.5.SPINE161244.

Disclosures Dr. Karikari is a consultant for NuVasive.

© AANS, except where prohibited by US copyright law.



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