Briefing - what is delirium?

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Delirium is an acute deterioration in mental functioning.  People with delirium may present as acutely confused, but they may also be excessively sleepy and unresponsive, or agitated. Up to one half of people with delirium have delusions (eg. believing they are imprisoned) or hallucinations (seeing things that are not real).3 Many patients with delirium also experience anxiety and fear.

Delirium is triggered by acute illnesses including infections and heart failure, adverse effects of drugs (or drug withdrawal), trauma, or surgery.1 People who are older, particularly those with dementia or frailty, are much more likely to develop delirium.1,6  The risk of delirium can be reduced through avoiding dehydration or other physiological disturbance, avoiding constipation, careful use of drugs, reorientation, correction of sensory impairments where possible, and involvement of family members especially where there is chronic cognitive impairment.

Delirium treatment involves addressing several areas, as summarised in the treatment section. The Delirium 8 framework can be used as a guide to each area of treatment to consider.

Delirium 8 framework