Delirium: A Guide for Caregivers


This video will explain what delirium is and how you can help your loved one with delirium while they’re in the hospital. 

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This video will explain what delirium is and how you can help your loved one with delirium while they’re in the hospital.

During their care, your loved one may experience delirium. Delirium is a sudden change in the way someone thinks and acts.

If your loved one has delirium, they may not act like themselves. They may not sleep at regular hours and may be confused about what day or time it is. They may also have trouble listening or speaking clearly. Sometimes, they may see or hear things that aren’t there. You may also notice changes in their mood or behavior. This might mean they’re sleepier or quieter than usual, or they might seem restless or anxious.

Signs of delirium can start suddenly and can last for just a few days, or it can happen slowly, over several days or weeks. They may also come and go.

If you notice any of these signs, tell the nurse or doctor right away. The healthcare team will work to take care of your loved one and will refer them to other services if needed.

Signs of delirium are sometimes confused with signs of dementia. But dementia and delirium are different. Dementia is a state of confusion that slowly gets worse over time and won’t get better. Delirium happens quickly, and you’ll notice a change in your loved one right away. Delirium will usually go away after treatment for whatever is causing it.

Different things can cause delirium, but it’s usually caused by an illness or injury. Once the illness or injury is treated, the signs will usually go away, and your loved one will begin to act like themselves again.

If your loved one is taking 5 or more medications, is on a breathing machine, recently had surgery, is dehydrated, or is 70 years old or older, they may be at a higher risk of getting delirium. Having these risk factors doesn’t always mean that they will get delirium, but it’s helpful to know what they are.

There are many ways you can help your loved one prevent and manage delirium while they’re in the hospital. One way is by helping your loved one manage their pain. If you think they’re uncomfortable or in pain, tell their nurse.

You can also help your loved one feel comfortable and stay calm by bringing items from home for them to use while they’re in the hospital. You can bring pictures or a small clock. If your loved one uses a hearing aid or glasses, make sure to bring those to the hospital too.

It’s also important to talk to your loved one about where they are and the time and date. This can help them stay aware. You can also help by doing activities with them, like puzzles or reading the news, or getting them to exercise while they’re in the hospital.

Your loved one may need help keeping a normal sleep pattern while they’re in the hospital. You can help them sleep at night and stay awake during the day by bringing their blankets or pillows from home, and letting their nurse know their normal sleep schedule.

To help with their delirium, the healthcare team may refer your loved one to an occupational therapist, physical therapist, or a physiatrist, which is a doctor that’s trained in rehabilitation medicine.

An occupational therapist can help them do daily tasks to care for themselves, like getting dressed and going to the bathroom. They can also help them do mental exercises like crossword puzzles and sudoku.

A physical therapist can work on helping them move around and show them exercises they can do to keep them active while they’re in the hospital.

Let’s review an example of what delirium might look like for someone. Joe is a 70-year-old man and is coming in for a lung surgery as part of his cancer treatment. After his surgery, Joe was in a lot of pain, and his doctors gave him a high dose of pain medication. Joe also had a fever and was told he had an infection. Joe’s wife, Jasmine, noticed that Joe couldn’t stay awake and wasn’t able to keep track of what day it was or where he was. Joe was also talking about seeing things in the room that weren’t there. What should Jasmine do?

She should let the nurse know how Joe is acting. Then she can help Joe by talking to him often and making sure he knows he’s safe in the hospital. She could also bring in special items from home to make him more comfortable.

It’s important to remember that this is just 1 example. Delirium can look different for everyone.

Delirium can be scary for a patient and their loved ones, but it can be treated. Be sure to talk with your loved one’s healthcare provider if you notice any signs of delirium.

Noticing these signs early can help your loved one get the treatment they need. You can play an important role in helping them get better by creating a more calm and normal daily routine, and following the tips discussed in this video.

For more information about delirium, ask your healthcare provider for printed resources. You can also find more information online by visiting

Last Updated

Thursday, June 15, 2023

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