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Protocol for validation of the 4AT, a rapid screening tool for delirium: a multicentre prospective diagnostic test accuracy study

10 Feb 2018


Delirium is a severe neuropsychiatric syndrome of rapid onset, commonly precipitated by acute illness. It is common in older people in the emergency department (ED) and acute hospital, but greatly under-recognised in these and other settings. Delirium and other forms of cognitive impairment, particularly dementia, commonly coexist. There is a need for a rapid delirium screening tool that can be administered by a range of professional-level healthcare staff to patients with sensory or functional impairments in a busy clinical environment, which also incorporates general cognitive assessment. We developed the 4 ’A’s Test (4AT) for this purpose. This study’s primary objective is to validate the 4AT against a reference standard. Secondary objectives include (1) comparing the 4AT with another widely used test (the Confusion Assessment Method (CAM)); (2) determining if the 4AT is sensitive to general cognitive impairment; (3) assessing if 4AT scores predict outcomes, including (4) a health economic analysis.

Methods and analysis

900 patients aged 70 or over in EDs or acute general medical wards will be recruited in three sites (Edinburgh, Bradford and Sheffield) over 18 months. Each patient will undergo a reference standard delirium assessment and will be randomised to assessment with either the 4AT or the CAM. At 12 weeks, outcomes (length of stay, institutionalisation and mortality) and resource utilisation will be collected by a questionnaire and via the electronic patient record.

Ethics and dissemination

Ethical approval was granted in Scotland and England. The study involves administering tests commonly used in clinical practice. The main ethical issues are the essential recruitment of people without capacity. Dissemination is planned via publication in high impact journals, presentation at conferences, social media and the website

Trial registration number

ISRCTN53388093; Pre-results.

Click here to view the full article which appeared in BMJ Open

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