Delirium and Senior Care


What is delirium?

Delirium is a state of confusion that comes on very suddenly and usually lasts from a few hours to several days.  When someone is delirious, they generally cannot think clearly and don't have a true sense of what is going on around them.

What can cause delirium?

There are many possible causes including:

  • Alcohol or drug withdrawal
  • Cognitive or sensory impairments *
  • Concurrent medical illness *
  • Dehydration *
  • Depression *
  • Drug abuse *
  • Electrolyte or other body chemical disturbances *
  • Infections such as urinary tract infections, sepsis or pneumonia *
  • Medication intolerance *
  • Pain *
  • Poisons
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Smoking
  • Stroke or vascular dementia *
  • Surgery/anesthesia *
  • Urine retention or fecal impaction *

* these are among the more common causes for seniors

How is delirium different in Seniors?

Seniors with other chronic disorders often take longer to recover from delirium than younger folks.  Likewise, delirium may also continue on and off for a couple weeks in less healthy seniors.

While dementia and delirium are different, seniors with dementia are up to 3 times more likely to experience delirium.  People with dementia sometimes don't recover as quickly as non-dementia inflicted individuals.

Finally, delirium often lengthens hospital stays for seniors.

How is delirium treated?

Behavioral interventions can be used, especially when the cause is sensory impairments. Remove the cause, and often you stop the delirium.

Often discontinuation of new medications can help.  In other cases, some medications can be added to control symptoms.

You, as a family member, are very important in helping the medical treatment team determine what is normal for your loved one (their baseline) and what is different.  This helps them to select the best possible course of treatment.

For more information on delirium, check out the American Delirium Society web site.  senior care