James, a 74-year old who loves golf and bridge, went into hospital for minor surgery. After the operation, his daughter Debbie noticed that he wasn’t himself. He seemed confused and anxious, unsure of where he was or what was happening. He told Debbie he thought one of the nurses had taken his prized watch. The nurse said he might be showing early signs of dementia.
In fact, James was experiencing delirium, a state of mental confusion that can occur as a result of illness, surgery or some medications. It happens suddenly, often in elderly patients who are in the hospital. The symptoms tend to come and go, and often increase at night. Unlike dementia, it’s a temporary problem if properly addressed.
If the person you are caring for is showing symptoms of delirium, let a health care worker know immediately. Delirium is a medical emergency, and early diagnosis and treatment offer the best chance of recovery.
- Confused or muddled thinking and unusual behaviours
- Emotional upset such as anxiety
- Suspicion of others
- Increased restlessness and irritability
- Being unaware of time and place
- Reduced ability to concentrate and focus attention
- Delusions or hallucinations
- Be calm and reassuring
- Speak slowly and clearly and use simple sentences about familiar, non-threatening topics
- Don’t argue or try to test memory or thinking
- Don’t over-stimulate the person
- Allow periods of uninterrupted rest
- Make sure he or she gets enough fluids and food
- Encourage him or her to be up and walking, when it’s safe to do so.
- Make sure his or her hearing aids and glasses are available
- Make sure he or she gets to the bathroom regularly
- Keep a calendar and clock within view