Pharmacological Treatment for Terminal Agitation, Delirium and Anxiety in Frail Older Patients

Dine A D Jennes, Tim Biesbrouck, Maaike L De Roo, Tinne Smets, Nele Van Den Noortgate

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CONTEXT: Psychological distress symptoms in the last days of life often contribute to the overall symptom burden in frail older patients. Good symptom management practices are crucial to ensure high-quality end-of-life care in an aging population, though the best pharmacological approach to treat these psychological symptoms has yet to be established.

OBJECTIVES: To identify current evidence-based and practice-based knowledge of pharmacological interventions for the treatment of agitation, delirium, and anxiety during the last days of life in frail older patients.

METHODS: A systematic, mixed methods review was performed through MEDLINE via PubMed and EMBASE from inception until February 2022 and updated through March 2023. National and international guideline databases and grey literature were searched for additional studies and guidelines.

RESULTS: Four quantitative studies, two non-randomized and two descriptive, were identified. No randomized controlled trials met inclusion criteria. No qualitative studies were withheld. The three consensus-based protocols that were found through citation searching and screening of grey literature did not meet the standards for inclusion. Haloperidol is recommended in consensus-based guidelines for delirium and is widely used, but high-quality evidence about its efficacy is missing. Better control of agitation or refractory delirium might be achieved with the addition of a benzodiazepine. There is no evidence available about the treatment of anxiety in the last days of life in frail older patients.

CONCLUSIONS: This mixed methods review demonstrates the lack of good quality evidence that is needed to help clinicians with pharmacological treatment decisions when confronted with psychological symptoms in the last days of life in frail older patients. Population aging will only emphasize the need for further research in this specific population.

Original languageEnglish
Article number51
Number of pages20
JournalGeriatrics (Basel, Switzerland)
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 18 Apr 2024

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© 2024 by the authors.


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