Diagnostic accuracy of the 4AT for delirium detection in older adults: systematic review and meta-analysis

Zoë Tieges, Alasdair M.J. Maclullich, Atul Anand, Claire Brookes, Marica Cassarino, Margaret O’connor, Damien Ryan, Thomas Saller, Rakesh C. Arora, Yue Chang, Kathryn Agarwal, George Taffet, Terence Quinn, Susan D. Shenkin, Rose Galvin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


Objective: Detection of delirium in hospitalised older adults is recommended in national and international guidelines. The 4 ‘A’s Test (4AT) is a short (<2 minutes) instrument for delirium detection that is used internationally as a standard tool in clinical practice. We performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of diagnostic test accuracy of the 4AT for delirium detection. Methods: We searched MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, CINAHL, clinicaltrials.gov and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, from 2011 (year of 4AT release on the website www.the4AT.com) until 21 December 2019. Inclusion criteria were: older adults (≥65 years); diagnostic accuracy study of the 4AT index test when compared to delirium reference standard (standard diagnostic criteria or validated tool). Methodological quality was assessed using the Quality Assessment of Diagnostic Accuracy Studies-2 tool. Pooled estimates of sensitivity and specificity were generated from a bivariate random effects model. Results: Seventeen studies (3,702 observations) were included. Settings were acute medicine, surgery, a care home and the emergency department. Three studies assessed performance of the 4AT in stroke. The overall prevalence of delirium was 24.2% (95% CI 17.8–32.1%; range 10.5–61.9%). The pooled sensitivity was 0.88 (95% CI 0.80–0.93) and the pooled specificity was 0.88 (95% CI 0.82–0.92). Excluding the stroke studies, the pooled sensitivity was 0.86 (95% CI 0.77–0.92)

733 pooled specificity was 0.89 (95% CI 0.83–0.93). The methodological quality of studies varied but was moderate to good overall. Conclusions: The 4AT shows good diagnostic test accuracy for delirium in the 17 available studies. These findings support its use in routine clinical practice in delirium detection. PROSPERO Registration number: CRD42019133702.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)733-743
Number of pages11
JournalAge and Ageing
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2021


  • 4AT
  • delirium
  • dementia
  • older patients
  • screening tool
  • systematic review

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aging
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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