Background: Earlier anecdotal observations suggested to us that certain aspects of judgment in sick adults approximate the thinking of children.
Objective: To describe changes in judgment associated with serious illness in otherwise competent adults.
Design: Cohort study.
Setting: Urban acute-care hospital and senior citizen center.
Participants: Sicker (Karnofsky score â‰¤ 50; n = 24) and less sick (Karnofsky score > 50; n = 39) hospitalized patients were compared with controls (n = 28). Normal performance on the Mini-Mental State Examination (score â‰¥ 24) was required for study entrance.
Measurements: Seven Piagetian tasks of judgment designed to study childhood cognitive development. Degree of sickness was determined by using the Karnofsky scale of physical function.
Results: Patients with Karnofsky scores of 50 or less responded correctly to fewer Piagetian tasks than controls (mean [Â±SD], 1.8 Â± 2.6 vs. 5.9 Â± 1.6; PÂ <Â 0.001). Furthermore, a smaller proportion of sicker patients responded correctly to each of the seven tasks. Patients with Karnofsky scores greater than 50 did not perform differently than controls.
Conclusion: In sicker hospitalized patients, performance on seven Piagetian tasks of judgment was similar to that among children younger than 10 years of age. This evidence of cognitive impairment warrants further investigation.