Patient Guide

Delirium

Delirium is a common, serious and potentially reversible condition which affects many elderly admitted to the hospital.

Patients with delirium may manifest the following features:

  • Sudden onset of confusion and inattentiveness.
  • Fluctuate between periods of drowsiness and hyper-alertness.
  • Disturbances in normal thought processes and hallucinations.
  • Frequent and dramatic mood swings.

It may be the only sign of serious illness in an older person and should always be assessed carefully. Precipitating causes of delirium may include serious infections, dehydration, medication side-effects or organ failure.

A delirious elderly is at a higher risk for falling, incontinence and developing back ulcers.

Delirium may also result in longer hospital stays, decline in everyday function, greater risk of requiring nursing home placement, and higher risk of death.

Patients with delirium may have confusion that last for weeks or even months after the acute episode.

Management of delirium involves identifying and treating the underlying risk factors and precipitating factors.

Drug treatment are not always needed but will be considered to control distressing symptoms.

Delirium is best managed by a specialised healthcare team, which may include doctors, nurses, therapists and social workers trained to look after the multiple medical problems in the elderly.

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