BC Patient Safety & Quality Council

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Delirium Resources for Patients and Families

Delirium causes a person’s mind to become clouded and makes paying attention or focusing difficult. Up to 2 in 3 patients in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) can develop delirium.*

Talk to your loved one’s care team if you think they are experiencing delirium.

You can educate yourself and your loved ones about delirium by using the web resources below! They will help you understand how delirium can be prevented and managed.

What is delirium?

Delirium is a specific mental state where a person’s mind becomes clouded, making paying attention or focusing difficult. There are many causes for delirium, including dehydration, severe illness or unmanaged pain. Watch this 5-minute video to learn more about delirium.

Delirium is different than dementia! Learn more about the differences:

Delirium Dementia
Develops over hours or days Develops over months or years
Usually resolves as patient recovers Is a permanent condition
Can change from day to day Gets worse over time

What should you look for?

Delirium can look different from one person to another.  You may notice your loved one is acting differently and doing things like picking at their clothes, being unusually afraid or unusually quiet, or appearing nervous or sad. If you notice anything unusual, talk to your care team!  Learn more about how to recognize delirium here.

How can you help?

You are an important part of your loved one’s care and recovery. You can help prevent and manage delirium:

  • Speak to your care team if your loved one is not him/herself. How do they normally act? What are their usual sleep patterns? Do they have a preferred nickname?
  • Remind your loved one of the day, date and where they are. If they are confused or are seeing things that aren’t there, avoid arguing with them.
  • Provide glasses, hearing aids and dentures. This will help your loved one communicate and interact with the world around them.
  • Talk about family, friends and familiar topics. If you are not sure what to talk about, read a favourite book or the newspaper out loud. This will help your loved one stay involved and connected.
  • Help your loved one stay active. Ask the care team how you can help!

How might delirium impact you later?

The long term effects of delirium are unpredictable. They can range from forgetfulness and fatigue to confusion and pain. Patient stories can give you an idea of what others have faced.

Those who support patients through delirium (such as family members or close friends) may also take time to recover. Seeing delirium from the eyes of artists and musicians may help you understand what your loved one has gone through.

*Cavallazzi, R., Saad, M., & Marik, P. E. (2012). Delirium in the ICU: an overview. Annals of Intensive Care, 2, 49. http://doi.org/10.1186/2110-5820-2-49