Recognizing and Responding to Delirium
July 2, 2021 | Aging Services Risk Management
Delirium is a serious, acute neuropsychiatric condition involving disturbances in consciousness, attention, orientation, memory, thought, perception, and behavior. Delirium is linked to cognitive and functional decline and high rates of morbidity and mortality, especially for older adults with multiple comorbidities, including those that involve cognitive impairment. Often caused by an underlying medical condition such as infection or a drug interaction, delirium is usually reversible; however, in older adults it is frequently overlooked or mistaken for dementia, depression, or psychosis (for more information on these conditions, see the guidance articles Dementia Care in Aging Services and Mental Health in Aging Services). Delirium is the most common reason for acute cognitive dysfunction in hospitalized older people (1).
Delirium is a common occurrence that requires quick recognition, thorough assessment, and an appropriate and timely response in order to avoid worsening conditions and other adverse effects, including death. Staff education and training to achieve these goals are thus a high priority for aging services organizations. Interventions should be aggressively directed at the cause or involve the immediate removal of the offending agent.