Background Alterations in autonomic nervous system (ANS) activity might be involved in the pathophysiology of delirium. The aim was to explore autonomic cardiovascular control in older patients with and without delirium. Methods Fourteen patients (five with delirium) acutely admitted to the geriatric ward with an infection were enrolled in the study. Patients with atrial fibrillation, a pacemaker, or on treatment with beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers or acetylcholinesterase inhibitors were not eligible. Continuous, non-invasive hemodynamic variables were measured during supine rest (5 min) and head-up tilt (HUT) to 15 degrees (10 min). Heart rate (HR), blood pressure (BP) and stroke volume (SV) were recorded beat-to-beat. Cardiac output (CO), total peripheral resistance (TPR), end-diastolic volume (EDV) and heart rate variability (HRV) values were calculated. Results Median age was 86 years. HR, BP, SV, CO, TPR and EDV were similar across the two groups at rest, but there was a trend towards a greater increase in systolic BP and HR during HUT in the delirium group. At rest, all HRV indices were higher in the delirium group, but the differences were not statistically significant. During HUT, the delirium group had higher power spectral density (PSD) (representing total variability) (p = 0.06) and a lower low frequency (LF)/high frequency (HF)-ratio (an index of sympathovagal balance) than the control group (p = 0.06). Also, delirious patients had a significantly greater reduction in standard deviation of RR-intervals (SDNN) (representing total variability) from baseline than controls (p = 0.01) during HUT. Conclusions This explorative pilot study on autonomic cardiovascular control in delirium suggests that there may be differences in HRV that should be further investigated in larger samples.
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