Delirium in the Older Person

Delirium is a sudden change in mental state which disturbs thinking and attention, and results in changed behaviour.

These web pages are for everyone, professionals and family members, who support seniors and the elderly who develop delirium.

See Delirium Resources for more information about delirium.

View Useful Delirium Links

Island Health offers two educational DVDs:

A Medical Emergency

Delirium is a change in mental state which comes on suddenly, fluctuates over 24 hours, alters consciousness, disturbs thinking and attention, and results in changed behaviour. Symptoms include problems with attention, thinking, memory, psychomotor changes and disruption of the sleep-wake cycle (Lipowski, 1989; Ignatavicious, 1999, Bater, 2006, DSM-IV-TR, 2000). 

If Delirium is not recognized, it can lead to permanent disability or death.

Delirium is considered a “medical emergency”. 

Delirium affects older persons in all areas of health care. All staff must be skillful in recognizing and responding to it.


Shocking Delirium Statistics

Despite the fact that Delirium is treatable,

In Acute Care:

  • 50% of older persons may develop delirium in hospital
  • 40-50% of older persons develop delirium after hip surgery
  • 70% of person 65+ admitted to intensive care (National Guidelines, 2006)

In Residential Care:

  • 22-89% of residents with dementia experience delirium (National Guidelines, 2006)

In Home and Community Care:

  • 42% of referrals to the Upper Island Geriatric Outreach Program were related to delirium (2003-2004).

>> Delirium Resources

Last Update: July 2014