Critically ill patients in intensive care units (ICUs), according to the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health. The multi-site team that conducted the trial found no evidence that treatment with antipsychotic medicines haloperidol or ziprasidone affected delirium, survival, length of ICU or hospital stay or safety.

The findings from the Modifying the Impact of ICU-Associated Neurological Dysfunction-USA (MIND-USA), the study was published in  The New England Journal of Medicine.

This is strong evidence from what we consider a 'gold standard' clinical trial delirium. The evidence from this study suggests the need to reexamine that practice. "Bernard is also NIA's senior geriatrician. Delirium is an acute disturbance in attention and awareness with symptoms that can include disorganized thinking and agitation.

More than 7 million hospitalized Americans per year experience delirium. It can affect patients of any age but is more common among older adults who experience major illness – especially involving an ICU stay or have major surgery.

Antipsychotic Medications

Delirium is also associated with higher ICU costs and multiple adverse outcomes, such as longer hospital stays, long-term cognitive impairment, and death. Antipsychotic medications have been used to treat delirium in ICU patients for 40 years without a definitive understanding of their effectiveness.

Researchers found no significant difference in duration of delirium or coma among those participants on haloperidol or ziprasidone compared to placebo. Similarly, there were no significant differences between participants on either antipsychotic medication compared to placebo in 30-day and 90-day mortality or on the ventilator, or in the ICU and hospital.

Severe Illness

The study population included participants with a wide range of ages, conditions and admission diagnoses. Overall, they had a 73% 30-day survival rate and 64% 90-day survival rate, which reflects the severe nature of their illnesses.

The research team also found no evidence of major harm from the antipsychotics but did note other research suggesting safety concerns including increased mortality associated with antipsychotic use in non-ICU geriatric populations.

About the National Institute on Aging (NIA):

The NIA leads the federal government effort conducting and supporting research on aging and the health and well-being of older people. The Institute's broad scientific program seeks to understand the nature of aging and to extend the healthy, active years of life. 

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH):

 NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the US Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases.