Delirium facts

Delirium: What is it?

Delirium, acute confusional state, is a common medical problem particularly in the older hospitalised person(1,2). Delirium is not a disease but a syndrome with multiple causes (3) .This condition is a medical emergency associated with increased morbidity and mortality rates(2).

It is a fluctuating potentially reversible condition and when it occurs people are confused and may be either agitated or quiet and drowsy(3). A person with delirium is unable to pay attention and are different from their normal selves. They may be unsure of the time of the day and where they are and usually have changes to their sleeping habits(3).

American Psychiatric Association delirium definition

Delirium: The problem

Delirium is frequently unrecognised or misdiagnosed and is commonly mistaken for dementia, depression or other neuropsychiatric abnormalities(4,5,6) . Delirium is commonly precipitated by an underlying acute health condition, which if identified can usually be treated. Increasing age, dementia, visual impairment and severe medical illness are important risk factors for the development of delirium(1). Delirium is said to occur in in up to 56% of  hospitalised older medical patients(7), 3.6-28.3% of older patients having elective orthopaedic surgery (8) and up to 86.5% of mechanically ventilated intensive care patients(9).

Delirium : Recommendations & Best Practice Frameworks (Australian)