Delirium is a sudden and severe temporary disturbance in thinking and brain function. It is caused by a stress on the brain. It is a common and serious condition. It can cause changes in a person’s ability to stay alert, to remember, to be oriented to time or place, or to speak or reason clearly. Delirium becomes more common as when we get older, especially if we are unwell, frail, or living with a dementing illness.
If a delirium is spotted, the underlying causes can be treated to help resolve the delirium. The delirium will usually only last for a few days. If it is missed the delirium can continue and lead to serious complications such as falls. Three quarters of older people who fall in hospital have symptoms of a delirium. Just under half of all people in aged residential care may experience delirium at some time.
Good news is that reviews have found that over a third of delirium cases can be prevented. Some of the risk factors for delirium we are not able to change, including being older, being very unwell, and having a dementia. There are many risk factors that we can change however. These include:
- Reducing pain
- Reducing infection
- Reducing constipation
- Keeping well hydrated
- Reviewing medication
- Reducing stress
- Supporting vision and hearing
- Staying engaged
It is hard to sport a delirium in yourself. It helps if the people who know you best learn about delirium. Ask them to help you see or talk to a doctor or nurse right away if any of the following signs suddenly appear – even if the signs come and go
- having trouble paying attention.
- Being distracted or unable to follow a conversation
- Saying or doing things that do not make sense
- Hearing voices or seeing things that other people do not
- developing strange beliefs or thinking people are trying to cause you harm
- being withdrawn, quieter or slower than usual
- being restless, worried, annoyed or angry
- having trouble staying awake during the day and/or not sleeping at night.
For a toolkit, and more useful information on delirium, click here.