Interventions to support recovery following an episode of delirium: A realist synthesis

Gareth O’Rourke*, Daisy Parker, Rob Anderson, Sarah Morgan-Trimmer, Louise Allan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: Persistent delirium is associated with poor outcomes in older adults but little is known about how to support longer-term recovery from delirium. The aim of this review was to identify and synthesise literature to understand mechanisms of recovery from delirium as a basis for designing an intervention that enables more effective recovery. Methods: A systematic search of literature relevant to the research question was conducted in two phases. Phase one focused on studies evaluating the efficacy of interventions to support recovery from delirium, and stage two used a wider search strategy to identify other relevant literature including similar patient groups and wider methodologies. Synthesis of the literature followed realist principles. Results: Phase one identified four relevant studies and stage two identified a further forty-six studies. Three interdependent recovery domains and four recovery facilitators were identified. Recovery domains were 1) support for physical recovery through structured exercise programmes; 2) support for cognitive recovery through reality orientation and cognitive stimulation; 3) support for emotional recovery through talking with skilled helpers. Recovery facilitators were 1) involvement and support of carers; 2) tailoring intervention to individual needs, preferences and abilities; 3) interpersonal connectivity and continuity in relationships and; 4) facilitating positive expressions of self. Conclusions: Multicomponent interventions with elements that address all recovery domains and facilitators may have the most promise. Future research should build on this review and explore patients’, carers’, and professionals’ tacit theories about the persistence of delirium or recovery from delirium in order to inform an effective intervention.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages17
JournalAging and Mental Health
Early online date31 Jul 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 31 Jul 2020


  • Delirium
  • older adults
  • realist review
  • rehabilitation

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