Delirium is recognized by the presence of a number of specific symptoms, but these may change quickly.  For example, someone may move from lethargy to agitation and then back again. The symptoms also vary quite a bit from one person to the next. Delirium may also come and go within a 24-hour period and people with delirium often have lucid (clear) intervals during the course of a day. 

Typical symptoms of delirium include:

  • Sudden onset over hours to days
  • Slurred speech and language difficulties, talking that doesn’t make sense
  • Changes in feeling (sensation) and perception
  • Easily distracted, decreased attention, concentration, and environmental awareness; usually more alert in the morning than at night; in and out of consciousness
  • Changes in movement (for example, may be slow moving or very restless)
  • Changes in sleep patterns, such as reversed sleep-wake cycles
  • Confusion and disorientation, not aware of correct time or place
  • Memory loss, including decreased short-term memory and recall
  • Disorganized thinking
  • Emotional or personality changes, with frequent changes in moods, including anger, agitation, anxiety, apathy, depression, fear, euphoria, irritability, suspicion
  • Incontinence
  • Hallucinations (visual, but not auditory)
  • Signs of medical illness (such as fever, chills, pain, etc.) or medication side effects


Last Updated July 2020

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