Delirium is defined as an acute decline in cognitive functioning. It is a severe disturbance in mental abilities which leads to confused thinking and decreased awareness of the environment. The start of delirium is commonly sudden but rapid, ranging from a few hours to a few days. 

Delirium is usually correlated to one or more contributing factors, like a serious or chronic disease, changes in metabolic balance, medication, infection, surgery, and alcohol/drug intoxication or withdrawal. 

In case the diagnosis of delirium is confirmed, the medical team and older person’s family should understand that further support on discharge will likely be needed given the risks associated with delirium.

The consequences of delirium among hospitalized seniors are substantial and are traced to  increased mortality, cognitive and functional decline, falls, and admission to long-term care. Recognizing delirium as soon as possible and treating the underlying cause can prevent such adverse consequences.

Primary prevention of delirium is addressing six risk factors in senior patients that commonly contribute to delirium: cognitive impairment, sleep deprivation, immobility, visual impairment, hearing impairment, and dehydration. Considering these risk factors leads to fewer days of delirium and fewer episodes of delirium. However, it does not decrease delirium severity or recurrence rates.

If your relative, friend or someone you know shows any signs or symptoms of delirium, we recommend you to see a doctor. Your input about the person’s symptoms, usual thinking and everyday abilities will be critical for an accurate diagnosis and discovering the underlying cause.