Delirium in the Older Person

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

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

These web pages are for anyone who supports an elder who develops a delirium (family members and health care professionals).

See Delirium Resources  and Useful Delirium Links for more information about delirium.

Island Health has produced 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-5, 2013). 

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.

The statistics are shocking. 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, 2014)

In Residential Care:

    • 22-89% of residents with dementia experience delirium (National Guidelines, 2014)

Get Delirium Resources

Last Update: August 2014