OBJECTIVE - Evidence is emerging that delirium duration is a predictor of long-term cognitive impairment in intensive care unit survivors. Relationships between 1) delirium duration and brain white matter integrity, and 2) white matter integrity and long-term cognitive impairment are poorly understood and could be explored using magnetic resonance imaging.
DESIGN, SETTING, PATIENTS - A two-center, prospective cohort study incorporating delirium monitoring, neuroimaging, and cognitive testing in intensive care unit survivors.
MEASUREMENTS - Delirium was evaluated with the Confusion Assessment Method for the Intensive Care Unit and cognitive outcomes were tested at 3 and 12-month follow-up. Following the intensive care unit stay, fractional anisotropy, a measure of white matter integrity, was calculated quantitatively using diffusion tensor imaging with a 3-T magnetic resonance imaging scanner at hospital discharge and 3-month follow-up. We examined associations between 1) delirium duration and fractional anisotropy and 2) fractional anisotropy and cognitive outcomes using linear regression adjusted for age and sepsis.
RESULTS - A total of 47 patients with a median age of 50 yrs completed the diffusion tensor imaging-magnetic resonance imaging protocol. Greater duration of delirium (3 vs. 0 days) was associated with lower fractional anisotropy (i.e., reduced fractional anisotropy = white matter disruption) in the genu (-0.02; p = .04) and splenium (-0.01; p = .02) of the corpus callosum and anterior limb of the internal capsule (-0.02; p =.01) at hospital discharge. These associations persisted at 3 months for the genu (-0.02; p =.02) and splenium (-0.01; p = .004). Lower fractional anisotropy in the anterior limb of internal capsule at discharge and in genu of corpus callosum at three months was associated with worse cognitive scores at 3 and 12 months.
CONCLUSIONS - In this pilot investigation, delirium duration in the intensive care unit was associated with white matter disruption at both discharge and 3 months. Similarly, white matter disruption was associated with worse cognitive scores up to 12 months later. This hypothesis-generating investigation may help design future studies to explore these complex relationships in greater depth.