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What is Delirium?

Delirium is a type of Neurocognitive Disorder that causes a serious disturbance in mental abilities where an individual then experiences confused thinking and is not fully aware of what is going on in the environment.

What are the symptoms of Delirium?

Symptoms of this disorder tend to happen over a period of hours or within a few days.

The following are symptoms of reduced awareness of the environment:

  • An individual tends to switch topics or has the inability to stay focused on a topic being discussed for example
  • An individual may get stuck on an idea rather then expressing a response to a question or conversation
  • An individual tends to get easily distracted by the things of less importance
  • An individual is withdrawn and has very little or no response to their surroundings

The following are symptoms of cognitive impairment:

  • An individual experiences poor memory (recent events)
  • An individual may constantly not know where they are at
  • An individual has a hard time speaking or recalling words
  • There is rambling or nonsense speech
  • They have difficulty understanding speech, reading, or writing

The following are symptoms of behavior change:

  • An individual begins to exclaim that they see things that do not exist (hallucinations)
  • An individual feel restless or feels agitated
  • An individual tends to call out, moan, or make any other sounds
  • An individual will often withdraw from others
  • An individuals’ movement delays
  • Individual experiences sleep disturbances
  • An individuals’ sleep cycle may be reversed

The following are symptoms of emotional disturbance:

An individual may experience the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Depression
  • Irritability or anger
  • Euphoria
  • Apathy
  • Unpredictable mood shifts
  • Sudden changes in personality

It is important to note that symptoms tend to worsen during the night when the setting appears less familiar to the individual. However, it is also important to note that there are a variety of deliriums

Hyperactive Delirium:

  • Most recognized
  • May include restlessness and rapid mood changes
  • Hallucinations

Hypoactive Delirium:

  • May include reduced motor activity
  • An individual may appear to be in daze

Mixed Delirium:

  • Includes both deliriums mentioned above

What causes Delirium?

  • A medical condition and medication toxicity
  • Alcohol, drug abuse, or drug withdrawal
  • Metabolic imbalance (low sodium or low calcium)
  • Severe/chronic illness
  • Fever or acute infection
  • Dehydration or malnutrition
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Pain
  • Surgery or any other medical procedures that include anesthesia

It is important to note, that sometimes no cause is found.

The following are factors that can increase the development of Delirium:

  • Brain disorders (i.e. dementia, stroke or Parkinson’s disease)
  • Older age
  • Visual or hearing impairment
  • Suffering from several medical conditions

How is Delirium treated?

The primary step in treatment is to figure out whether there is an underlying cause such as medication. Once that is figured out, treatment will be developed to create the best environment for the individual for them to heal and calm the brain. However, medications are often used.

How can I help myself cope with Delirium?

  • Provide yourself or someone you know with good sleeping habits
    • Calm & quiet environment
    • Keep lighting appropriate
    • Maintain a schedule
  • Remain calm and oriented
    • Maintain a clock and calendar so that you can refer to them regularly
    • Keep environment familiar (i.e. objects and pictures)
    • Approach an individual calmly
    • Avoid arguments
    • Keep loud noises to a minimum
    • Provide and maintain eyeglasses and hearing aids