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  • Writer's pictureNatalie Lehr-Splawinski, Marketing Communications

What is delirium?

Updated: Jan 23, 2023

Delirium is a state of sudden mental confusion that is caused by medical problems, surgery, and or medications. It's a syndrome, not a disease and not to be confused with sundowning in dementia patients which is defined as late afternoon or early evening confusion, anxiety, and or agitation.

Delirium disrupts thinking, concentration, memory, and sleep. It's also referred to as an 'acute confusional state' and is worst at night time. Delirium usually gets better when the medical cause/condition is being treated and improves. For example, an UTI (Urinary tract infection) or a chest infection is treated with antibiotics.

At times, it can take several days, or weeks, and leave vivid memories.

Seniors are more likely to have an episode of delirium.


  • Any acute infection

  • Major surgery

  • Being in an unfamiliar place

  • Dehydration

  • Constipation

  • Vision and or hearing problems

  • High fever

  • Medicine side effects

  • Anaemia - low hemoglobin levels

  • Hyponatremia low blood sodium levels

  • Liver or kidney problems

  • Drug or alcohol withdrawal

  • Epilepsy

  • Terminal disease

How to help a person with delirium?

1. Explain:

  • What and Why it happened -why they feel confused

  • Where the person is and why and that she/he is now safe

If the person has vision and or hearing problems, help them to locate & use their glasses or hearing aids

2. Comfort

  • Bring familiar items from home

  • Arrange friends and or family visit

The person affected by delirium may remember the emotions felt at the time, and this can be unpleasant. Once ones understand what causes it it is less frightening.

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