Delirium is a medical condition in which you experience confusion, a loss of attention and focus, hallucinations and sometimes memory loss. And although it can affect anyone the elderly are at greater risk of developing delirium.

What is Delirium?

Delirium isn’t a disease but rather a set of symptoms resulting from a disease or other mental health problem. Common symptoms displayed include;

Personality changes
Hallucinations or Delusions
A lack of concentration/Attention
Loss of short-term memory
Changes to mood like anxiety or agitation
Agression or restlessness
Becoming quiet and withdrawn
A lack of energy or lethargy

What Causes delirium?

As mentioned, delirium is not a disease itself and as such it can be caused by several conditions both mental and physical. Mental problems such as depression, anxiety and dementia are associated with delirium as are various forms of brain dysfunction. Substance withdrawal from prescribed or illegal drugs can often cause delirium and amongst the most likely substances to trigger this are alcohol and benzodiazepines. Similarly intoxication by several kinds of drugs, alcohol and even some anesthetics has been shown to cause delirium.

Delirium often occurs when a patient is very ill and around 69% of patients in intensive care suffer from delirium. There are many medical causes of delirium but the most commonly reported include;

Chemical imbalances
Severe or sudden illness
Recent surgery
A reaction to several kinds of medication
Severe pain
Lack of sleep
Neurological disorders
Head injury

What is the treatment for delirium?

There’s no one treatment for delirium. As the condition occurs because of different medical or mental diseases, the treatment relies on combating the underlying causes. Palliative treatments, used to make the patient comfortable and alleviate some of the symptoms are common. Symptoms of delirium can be treated with antipsychotics or benzodiazepines and there’s some evidence to suggest cholinesterase inhibitors can also be effective in treatment. The symptoms of delirium will usually disappear once the cause is removed, however in some cases of dementia the symptoms may continue indefinitely.

Family and friends of patients with delirium are often best at alleviating any fears or stress the sufferer may be experiencing. Bringing items from home such as clothes or pillows can often help. And sometimes just having someone they know nearby can be comforting.

Who is at risk from delirium?

As mentioned, people who are already suffering from a disease are at a greater risk of developing delirium. As such anyone in hospital is at an increased risk of developing it. There are several other factors which can also contribute. Patients suffering from any type of dementia or those who have recently had a stroke can be more prone to developing delirium. Having poor vision or hearing problems has also been shown to contribute to the risk of delirium. Finally patients over the age of 70 have a higher chance of going on to develop delirium.