Delirium Awareness

Delirium Resources

What is Delirium?

Delirium is a MEDICAL EMERGENCY that requires immediate attention. It is often a sign of serious disease in seniors and needs to be identified and managed quickly.

Delirium (or acute confusion) is a sudden change that causes confusion and uncharacteristic behaviours. Caregivers often describe a sudden change in thinking, memory or personality.

While there are several key signs/symptoms, screening focuses on four key areas:

  • Fluctuations in presentation and behaviours (confusion and behaviours fluctuate over the course of a day) o Inattention (difficulty focusing and concentrating)
  • Disorganized thinking (rambling, incoherent speech, unpredictable switching of subjects)
  • Altered level of consciousness (hyperactive, hypoactive)

Delirium is often not detected, or misdiagnosed as dementia or depression. Systematic screening and prompt assessment are important. Early diagnosis and treatment offer the best chance of recovery.

There are three types of delirium:

  1. hyperactive (restless, agitated)
  2. hypoactive (drowsy, lethargic)
  3. Mixed

The most frequently underdiagnosed is hypoactive delirium.

Delirium often has a multifactorial etiology with predisposing, precipitating and perpetuating factors.

Delirium can often be prevented. Awareness of its potentially modifiable risk factors is key to prevention.

Delirium can often be reversed with proper assessment and treatment by an interdisciplinary team.

  • Up to 75% of older adults experience delirium after acute illness or surgery.
  • It is very common in hospital settings
    • 1/3 medical and hip fracture patients
    • 1/2 ICU patients
  • 75% will recover from delirium in days/week
  • 25% will have persistent delirium that may last for months and, in some cases, never resolve

References: Regional Geriatric Program of Toronto: Senior Friendly Care (sfCare) Tools; Canadian Coalition for Seniors Mental Health: Delirium Tools Clinician Pocket Card

WDAD2022 – Key Messages – PDF

Pocket Guides for Clinicians

Printable Pocket Cards available for download below:

Delirium Pocketcard for Clinicians

sfCare Learning Series – PSW Pocket Guide



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