Delirium is a sudden change in the way a person thinks or acts. Because this change is sudden, delirium is different from depression and dementia.

Delirium can occur due to a number of different causes such as dehydration, injury or infection, medication, surgery or a change in environment.

In a hospital or care setting, you should notify staff if you notice that someone is not acting the way they usually do. Visiting regularly and keeping a consistent schedule will minimize the risk of delirium. Bringing familiar items from home during a hospital stay, such as a favourite blanket or picturesb may also help.

What do I see?

A major change in the person's behaviour that makes you feel that "this is not the same person that I know". The person may become fearful and anxious when they are delirious. These feelings may cause them to become agitated or to try to "get away". They may have good and bad times. Sudden changes in behaviour indicate this is delirium, not dementia or depression.

You may see some of the following behaviours:

  • May not know the time or where they are
  • May verbalize that they are ill and in hospital; however, may still want to leave to continue with their regular daily activities
  • May be drowsy or sleepy during the day and awake and restless during the night
  • May be agitated and restless or may be less active than usual
  • May see things that are not there (hallucinations)
  • May misinterpret sounds and voices around them
  • May say things that may embarrass you, like swearing or yelling
  • May hit, pinch or do other things they would not normally do

What contributes to delirium?

  • A change in environment such as hospitalization or relocation
  • Surgery
  • An infection
  • Dehydration
  • Medication
  • Alcohol or drug withdrawal
  • Lack of oxygen to the brain
  • An injury to the brain

What can I do?

  • You know the person the best. Please tell the staff if you see any unusual behaviours
  • Be supportive of the person and consistently tell them this will pass
  • Visit as regularly as possible. Your presence can reduce fear and anxiety. 
  • Bring familiar articles from home such as favourite music, pictures and blanket. Please note: All electrical equipment must be tested by our hospital technicians before use.
  • Ensure that prescription glasses, hearing aid and dentures are in good repair and used
  • Work with the staff to establish a regular and a consistent routine

Fraser Health supports a least restraint policy. We do not restrain a person (including bed rails and chair belts) unless all other alternatives have been unsuccessful to assure safety and then only after consultation with staff, physicians and family.

Speak with your doctor or health care team if you have any other questions regarding delirium.

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