CLEVELAND — Local doctors are seeing an alarming trend in COVID-19 patients: delirium. Dr. Dhimant Dani is a neurologist at the Cleveland Clinic and says he is continuing to treat COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit with delirium, hallucinations, and paranoia.
"If you see that patients admitted to the intensive care unit, approximately 60 to 70 percent of patients at some point do develop delirium," said Dr. Dhimant. "It is heartbreaking because you see they are going through periods of severe agitation, confusion and paranoia."
Delirium is a severe mental confusion and emotional imbalance. Coronavirus targets the lungs but the damage it causes can affect other major organs, including the brain. Dr. Dhimant says what is more concerning is that younger people are developing the symptoms.
"What is more alarming in patients with COVID, most of the time that delirium tends to be more common with elderly patients but we started seeing this in the younger patients who are developing those signs and symptoms of delirium that is very very concerning," said Dr. Dani. "I have experienced this in younger patients [and] it is heartbreaking.”
So, why is this happening?
"It is a multifactorial disease. It is not just because of medication, there are many factors involved in the development of delirium," said Dr. Dhimant. "Unfortunately, medication can do so much but we are fortunate at the Cleveland Clinic that the approach is always a team effort."
Treatment for COVID-19 can include ventilators, sedation and even intubation, which are all life-saving medical tools. However, Dr. Dani says using these measures for a long period of time can also increase the prevalence of delirium. Additionally, he says lack of oxygen is also a contributing factor. He also says many patients leave the hospital with Post traumatic stress disorder.
"Having a loved one around makes a huge impact for the patient and the family," said Dr. Dani. "The patient's hearing the voices of their loved one, that can be very calming and soothing."