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Hospital Delirium

Delirium is a common problem that can affect older adults during hospitalization. It's important to recognize when it is happening because it can delay healing. Tri-County Health Care is dedicated to monitoring you or your loved one to identify the signs. Family caregivers can also help in pinpointing the symptoms.

What is delirium?

Delirium is a temporary state of confusion. It causes a person’s mind to become clouded and makes paying attention and focusing difficult. Delirium is a common, serious and often preventable problem in hospitalized older adults. Delirium can slow the healing and recovery process and requires immediate treatment.

Delirium is different than dementia:

  • Delirium comes on quickly, in hours or days. Signs of delirium can change from one day to the next.
  • Delirium can make memory and thinking problems worse.
  • Delirium usually clears up after a few days or even a week.
  • Dementia is a permanent condition.
  • Dementia is a disturbance of thinking that comes on over months or years.
  • Patients with dementia are more likely to develop delirium.

  • Research shows that some patients who develop delirium might have dementia-like thinking problems that can last for months. At this time, we cannot predict who is at risk of developing dementia-like thinking problems.

    Who is at risk for delirium?

    People who:

  • Are 65 or older
  • Have dementia or depression
  • Are not functionally independent
  • Have impaired hearing or vision
  • Are dehydrated/malnourished
  • Take multiple medications
  • Have heart failure
  • Have an infection
  • Have multiple medical conditions
  • Are having surgery

  • What are symptoms of delirium?

    Symptoms are different for different people. Symptoms may come and go throughout the day. People with delirium may have some of the following:

  • Difficulty understanding what is happening around them
  • Confusion about daily events, daily routines, and who people are
  • Changes in personality
  • Seeing or hearing things that are not there
  • Thinking people are trying to harm them
  • Becoming quiet and withdrawn
  • Becoming stressed, anxious or aggressive
  • Changes in sleeping habits
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Unusual movements

  • Be sure to alert your health care provider if you notice any of these symptoms.

    Important things to remember:

  • Delirium is common and usually temporary.
  • Family members and caregivers can play an important role in caring for a person with delirium.
  • Tell a health care provider immediately if you notice any sudden changes in behavior or other symptoms of delirium.
  • Delirium can be a scary experience. If you or your loved one experience delirium, talking to a health care provider can help you understand what happened.
  • Talk to your health care provider if you have any questions or concerns about delirium.

  • For family members: tips for reducing the risk of delirium in the hospital

    1. Bring a complete list of medications and allergies, the name of your loved one's usual pharmacy and all known medical conditions.

    2. Bring glasses, hearing aids and dentures. Keep these clean and charged.

    3. Help orient your loved one throughout the day. Speak in a calm and reassuring tone of voice. Tell your loved one where he or she is and why.

    4. When giving instructions, state one step at a time.

    5. Tell the nurse or doctor immediately if you notice any signs or symptoms of delirium. Family members are usually the first to notice subtle changes.

    6. Help maintain a peaceful environment. Play soothing music. Make sure lighting is good but not too bright.

    7. Keep your loved one as mobile as possible. If there are physical restraints, ask if they can be removed.

    8. Make sure your loved one is eating and drinking enough.

    If your loved one is experiencing delirium, have someone they know stay with them as much as possible. This is especially important if their confusion is severe as it will help reduce anxiety caused by being in an unfamiliar place.

    Talk to your loved one about the delirious episode. This can help lessen anxiety, fear, frustration and anger that might develop.


    Toll-Free: 800-631-1811
    Phone: 218-631-3510