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Delirium Prevention and Management

Learn more about delirium.

Delirium Prevention and Management

Delirium is a sudden and severe confusion often experienced by elderly hospitalized patients. It can be caused by pain, surgery, medication, dehydration, lack of sleep or not using hearing aids or glasses. Most of the time, it is a short-term condition but sometimes it continues for days or weeks — and not everyone with delirium recovers or returns to their usual state.

Our nurses are specially trained to recognize, prevent and manage delirium. Our initiatives include: providing bedside activities to help calm patients; an educational brochure for patients and families; and Sleep Well Bags to help promote better sleep using earplugs, eye mask, scented sachet, lotion, tea and tips to getting a better night’s sleep.

When delirium is recognized your care team works to mitigate the causes and manage the symptoms.

Symptoms

During delirium, you may experience these new problems:

  • Inability to pay attention, think clearly or understand what is happening;
  • Not caring about the presence of others;
  • Difficulty staying awake during the day;
  • Forgetting your name, the date, where you are and why;
  • Seeing or hearing things that not really there, but seem real;
  • Unusual anger or upset (for example, feeling you need to leave the Hospital urgently);
  • Pulling out tubes;
  • Wandering out of your Hospital room alone.
These symptoms may start suddenly, and come and go throughout the day. In most cases, delirium improves rapidly as a person recovers from illness.

Causes

Delirium can be caused by any of the following situations, especially, when combined:
  • New or worsening physical illness, especially with fever or severe pain;
  • Medical procedures, such as surgery;
  • Severe constipation or inability to empty bladder;
  • Certain medications;
  • Withdrawal from alcohol or additive medicines;
  • Not eating or drinking enough;
  • Social isolation, or not using hearing aids and/or eyeglasses;
  • Lack of sleep.

Management

Our goal is to prevent delirium, whenever possible. When it does occur, we work to recognize it quickly and ensure your safety and comfort. This includes:

  • Eliminating medicines which may contribute to confusion;
  • Managing pain;
  • Ensuring sufficient food and fluid intake;
  • Encouraging walk around;
  • Promoting a normal schedule for sleeping and waking;
  • Keeping the bed in a low position to reduce the risk of falls;
  • Regularly offering help with toileting;
  • Encouraging the use of eye glasses, hearing aids and dentures when needed;
  • Offering familiar activities or music for reassurance and comfort;
  • Providing adequate time to rest after activity.

How to Help

If your loved one is experiencing delirium, you can help by: 

  • Offering quiet reassurance and sense of security;
  • Using simple sentences that require only one response at a time.
  • Encouraging eating and drinking, as well as the use of eye glasses, hearing aids and dentures, when appropriate;
  • Providing familiar objects from home.

The Challenges

"Mom is usually forgetful, but now she doesn't recognize me."

"Grandma's not acting like herself."

"My husband keeps falling asleep while I'm talking to him. That's not like him."

"Dad's not making any sense."

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Care & Treatment

  • Delirium Prevention and Management