Delirium

Lifestyle & Management

Delirium is traditionally viewed as a short-term, temporary problem. However, evidence is growing that it may persist for weeks to months in many people, especially in older people. In hospitalized patients, delirium is linked to poor outcomes, such as higher risk of death, complications, long hospital stays, and nursing home care. Poor outcomes are particularly common among older adults whose delirium continues for a long time.

Nevertheless, family members need to understand that delirium usually goes away eventually, although it may take weeks or months. Slow recovery is more common if delirium is severe, if the person already has dementia, or if the person is 85 years old or older. Careful supportive care and monitoring of mental status during this period are crucial to recovery. 

Caregiver and Family Assistance

Family members can play an important role by providing appropriate orientation, support, and assistance. More and more, hospitals are allowing family members to stay overnight with relatives who are already delirious or at high risk of delirium. If you are a caregiver, get medical help right away if the patient's mental status worsens suddenly.

You can find caregiver support groups in many regions. You may ask your healthcare provider for a recommendation, or contact a recognized mental health organization, geriatric center, library, community center, or the yellow pages of the phone book for caregiver resources. An internet search using “caregiver support” and “older people” as keywords will list many groups that provide support by telephone, or in-person within the area you live. Members of these groups get support by talking about their experiences, sharing strategies for coping, and informing each other about community resources.  Groups may be organized through nonprofit organizations, clinics, churches or other places of worship, or even by interested individuals.   

For more information on caregiving, see the Caregiver Health section of the website. 

      

Last Updated September 2017