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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury


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If you notice sudden changes for the worse in a whānau (family) member or friend's thinking, memory or personality, have them checked by a doctor as soon as possible.

Delirium is a temporary state of confusion. It can come and go, and symptoms develop suddenly, usually over a few hours or days.

Delirium usually has an underlying cause and once this is treated most people get better.

Although different from dementia, it can be more common in people with dementia and older people.

Reducing the risk of delirium

Simple strategies can reduce the risk of delirium happening.

See these ideas to help reduce your risk of delirium.

See this guide for whānau for information about delirium and how to reduce the risk of your loved ones getting it.

Find out how you can help a whānau member or friend reduce their risk of developing delirium in hospital.

Signs and symptoms of delirium

If someone has delirium, there is a sudden change from what is normal for them, and the person may be:

These symptoms may come and go across a day.

Causes of delirium

Causes of delirium can vary greatly but some can be serious and due to underlying medical conditions. These include infections, head injuries and biochemical imbalances, such as low sodium.

As people get older, they're more susceptible to delirium, especially if they're frail, unwell or living with dementia.

Whatever the cause, delirium is a serious condition and needs urgent medical treatment.

Diagnosing delirium

Your general practice team will diagnose your delirium and look for what is causing it. They will ask questions about symptoms, medications (particularly any new or changed ones). They may need to do blood or urine tests or sometimes X-rays to help find a cause. It's important that someone who knows you well explains what is different about you since it's hard to spot delirium in yourself.

Treating delirium

To treat delirium the cause needs to be treated. Most people will make a full recovery once the cause or causes have been treated.

To help in managing the risks of delirium it's important to be supportive and compassionate as delirium can be frightening for all involved.

Self-care for delirium

Apart from having the cause treated, there are things you can do to help yourself or someone you're caring for with delirium:

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed October 2022.


Page reference: 275674

Review key: HIDEL-275674