This brochure provides information for people who have experienced delirium and for their family/carers.
To view and print the brochure as a PDF file, click here: Patient Brochure (PDF 197 KB).
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Delirium is a common medical problem that is characterised by changes in mental function and occurs more often among older people. When delirium occurs people are confused and may be ether very agitated or quiet and drowsy. The onset of delirium is always sudden. It usually only lasts for a few days but may persist for longer periods. It can be a serious condition.
Who is at risk of developing delirium?People who:
What are the symptoms of delirium?People with delirium may:
How common is delirium?About one-fifth of older people admitted to hospital, and close to half of the residents in aged care facilities will experience delirium at some stage of their care.
What causes delirium?Common causes of delirium in older people include:
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How does delirium start?The symptoms happen very quickly, usually over hours or days. A person's behaviour can also fluctuate during the course of a single day. Delirium is sometimes mistaken for dementia or depression, so it is important for family/friends to notify medical/nursing staff of any sudden change in a person's mental state.
How long does delirium last?Delirium usually only lasts for a few days but sometimes it will continue for weeks or even months. If delirium is not resolved quickly, it can lead to serious complications such as falls, pressure ulcers, longer lengths of stay in hospital, and even death.
Will delirium recur?People who have experienced delirium do have a higher risk of experiencing delirium again.
How is delirium treated?Delirium is generally associated with an underlying physical illness. However it is not always possible to identify the cause. Staff will do a thorough medical assessment to look for and treat the underlying cause of the delirium. Treatment also includes reducing the risk of complications and lessening symptoms.
Role of family and carersFamily members/carers can provide valuable information to the staff caring for the person with delirium.
It is important to notify staff of any sudden change in a person’s mental or physical condition.
How can you help care for someone with delirium?It is reassuring for people with delirium to see familiar people. Visit as often as you can and try to be available to help with their care. Encourage other family members or friends to help as well.
If you have any concerns or questions about delirium, talk to your local doctor or ask your hospital staff.
ContactsCarers Resource Centres
Ph: 1800 242 636
Aged Care Information Line
Ph: 1800 500 853
National Dementia Helpline
Ph: 1800 100 500
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Adapted from: Clinical Epidemiology and Health Services Evaluation Unit 2006, Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Management of Delirium in Older People, Victorian Government Department of Human Services, Melbourne, Victoria.