What is Delirium?

Delirium refers to the usually rapid loss onset of mental awareness and increased confusion. Delirium typically results from severe or chronic illnesses, metabolic imbalances like sodium deficiency, certain medications, infections, and substance abuse.

There are three recognized types of delirium in seniors that have varied effects:

  •  Hyperactive delirium in older adults typically exhibits symptoms such as restlessness, irritability, mood swings, and hallucinations. Seniors with hyperactive delirium are also less cooperative in care.
  •  Hypoactive delirium causes reduced mobility and activity, lethargy, zoning out, and abnormal drowsiness in affected seniors.
  •  Mixed delirium is a delirium in seniors that exhibits symptoms of the two other types, and typically causes switches between the two types.

Promotion of regular and adequate sleep, prevention of other medical problems, and maintaining a consistent environment can help reduce the risk of delirium in older adults.

Delirium Symptoms

While delirium in seniors can appear rapidly and in a number of ways, there are certain symptoms and warning signs associated with the condition. As such, recognizing the following signs is crucial in identifying and treating delirium:

  •  Cognitive impairment, resulting in things such as memory loss or nonsense speech
  •  Disorientation
  •  Reduced environmental awareness
  •  Hallucinations
  •  Belligerence, restlessness
  •  Impeded socialization
  •  Sleep disturbances
  •  Reverse-cycling (sleeping during the day, awake at night)
  •  Personality changes
  •  Mood swings

Delirium patients also exhibit changes (sometimes rapid) in severity of the above and other symptoms.

How We Treat Delirium

The first thing that Gagne Behavioral Health Care professionals aim to do when alerted to the possibility of delirium is to find the cause. While the symptoms can indicate dementia as well, the more unique features of delirium include its rapid onset, fluctuations of severity of symptoms, and impaired alertness compared with dementia patients. These characteristics help us to determine and treat delirium in older adults.

Treatment of delirium includes medications which aid in controlling pain that can cause delirium, as well as help to calm agitated patients or to even alleviate some of the more disturbing behavioral symptoms, such as hallucinating. When delirium resolves after medical treatment, medication for the condition is usually no longer required.

Other needed treatment methods for the condition may include supportive care that aids the patient by aiding them with breathing, motor ability, and nutrition, addressing bladder problems and/or incontinence, and by providing a consistent environment during said care.


Can people recover from delirium?

Recovery from delirium depends on the cause. People affected by other conditions in addition to delirium, such as dementia, can impede recovery. People who are experiencing symptoms of delirium for other reasons, though, are often able to recover with regular pharmacological intervention.

What puts a person at risk of suffering delirium?

There are many common risk factors that can result in patients experiencing the effects of delirium. Some of these include old age, intensive care placement, previous episodes of delirium, hearing or visual impairment, other medical issues, and especially the presence of brain disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.

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