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Grant will fund study to prevent acute confusion in elderly

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The U.S. Public Health Service has awarded University of Iowa College of Nursing researcher Kennith Culp, Ph.D., $75,000 to test the effectiveness of hydration management in preventing acute confusion in long-term care facility residents.

The two-year study will test whether carefully managed fluid intake reduces the occurrence of acute confusion among elderly residents of long-term care facilities, as compared with individuals who do not follow the fluid intake guidelines. All of the study subjects will be residents of two Veterans Affairs facilities and two comparable community facilities in Iowa.

Culp, an assistant professor at the UI College of Nursing, said anywhere from 15 percent to 40 percent of nursing home residents experience episodes of acute confusion. He and other researchers believe acute confusion has several causes, including poor hydration, electrolyte imbalance, infection and the interaction of multiple medications. Culp said his study is the first to test a single intervention aimed specifically at one of the suspected causes of acute confusion.

Culp's co-investigator for the study, UI nursing doctoral candidate Janet Mentes, described acute confusion as "an insult to the brain-it's not that the brain is damaged, but it misfunctions." The condition is reversible but may not be recognized by many care providers in long-term facilities.

Mentes also observed that Iowa has a comparatively large proportion of residents over the age of 85, so finding an effective way to prevent acute confusion could benefit many people, not just those who reside in long-term care centers.

Culp expects the fluid intake management treatment to have positive results. "Physiologically, our intervention makes sense," he said.