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When ICU Delirium Leads to Symptoms of Dementia After Discharge

Analysis by Dr. Joseph Mercola

A stay in an intensive care unit (ICU) is always serious business, as you’re not there for a minor illness, but what would you think if you knew that the stay itself is associated with some serious side effects? NPR reports that dementia not only is a side effect of intensive medical care, but can be permanent.

Medical reports of patient delirium in an ICU setting are common, and in fact is a “huge problem,” even for younger patients with no prior history of mental challenges. Anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder are also common post-ICU symptoms. But reports of dementia following an ICU stay are another problem that has experts searching for solutions.

Dementia in any form is probably one of our worst fears, next to cancer. That it’s now connected to ICU settings is concerning, to say the least. While the featured article didn’t talk about drugs that are used in those settings, the fact that depression is mentioned makes me suspicious that some of these patients may be taking antidepressants — which are associated with an increased risk for dementia.

To complicate things even more, it’s been found that over 200 medications can actually cause depression as a side effect, so there’s a huge possibility that these patients may be taking multiple prescriptions after they’re released from intensive care, with the antidepressants prescribed to offset the side effects of those drugs.

The thing is, studies show that antidepressants work no better than placebos, so if ICU patients are taking them, it’s for no good reason. Fortunately, there are many alternatives to drugs for treating depression, including nutritional interventions, light therapy, exercise and more. If you’re struggling with depression, you needn’t suffer in silence. Seek help, from a counselor, a holistic psychiatrist or another natural health practitioner to start the journey toward healing.

In other situations, if you want to do something positive to prevent your risk for dementia by up to 90 percent, focus on a cardiovascular fitness program. Studies show that even among those at high risk of dementia, cognitive decline can be reduced with a comprehensive program addressing diet, exercise, brain training and managing metabolic and vascular risk factors.

Research confirming this includes a study in which seniors aged 60 to 80 who walked 30 to 45 minutes, three days per week, for one year increased the volume of their hippocampus by 2 percent. The hippocampus is a region of your brain important for memory. Higher fitness levels were also associated with a larger prefrontal cortex.

In another study, patients diagnosed with mild to moderate Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia, who participated in a four-month-long supervised exercise program had significantly fewer neuropsychiatric symptoms associated with the disease than the control group that did not exercise.