What is delirium and why does it matter?

Let’s talk about delirium – simply because it is something that can affect many people, especially older people, and it can be triggered by illness, stress, or by being hospitalised.

So what is delirium? Delirium is that state of worse-than-usual mental confusion, which if brought on by an unusual amount of stress on the body.

Have you ever seen an older person very confused after coming out of an operation? That’s delirium. It means that people can have memory problems, language problems, they can feel disorientation and not know where they are or what has happened to them. And the symptoms can vary, with different times of day leading to more severe symptoms than others.

So what kinds of stresses on the body can lead to delirium? Well it’s quite a long list, but here are a few:

  • Infection
  • A serious medical illness e.g. heart attack or kidney failure
  • Dehydration
  • Lack of sleep for long periods of time
  • Pain
  • Poor vision and hearing, which can get a lot worse if the person is lacking their glasses or hearing aids
  • Alcohol withdrawal

So anyone with an older person in their life needs to be aware of what delirium is and what to do if you spot it. As it is a sign of stress on the body, the cause of that stress needs to be found and resolved. And of course, before that happens, anyone in a high state of confusion is at a far greater risk of experiencing harm in some other way, such as a fall.

So have delirium on your radar – and let’s all stay safe together.