A new delirium detection tool could reduce hospital-to-nursing home transfers and help identify at-risk seniors, researchers say.

Developed by scientists at the University of California-San Francisco, the AWOL tool names four criteria for identifying at-risk seniors:

  • Age 80 or older
  • Inability to spell the word “world” backward
  • Confusion about where they are
  • Suffering from moderate to severe illness

Nineteen percent of the studied seniors who met three of four of the markers became delirious, compared with 4% of patients with none, according to a report Wednesday in the San Francisco Chronicle.

If doctors are able to determine which patients are most at risk, they can take steps to keep those people mentally sharp, said Vanja Douglas, M.D., a UCSF neurologist and the lead author of the UCSF delirium study.

Delirious patients are more likely to go straight to a nursing home from a hospital.

Delirium has no standard treatment, however, providers can help prevent its onset by helping residents sleep through the night, keeping certain drugs away from them and hanging calendars and clocks in their rooms to make them aware of the time and date, the Chronicle report notes.

Full study results are available in the Journal of Hospital Medicine.