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  • Writer's pictureNikita Chand

The 3 D’s of Healthcare – Delirium

The 3 D’s of healthcare are Dementia, Delirium and Depression, that you should get familiar with. Each of these D’s will be examined separately so that you can get a better understanding. Last time we touched on caregiver tips for people with Dementia, this week we will learn about Delirium and the caregiver’s role in caring for patients with Delirium.


Delirium is a term in healthcare that is considered a medical emergency. It is the abrupt onset of confusion and has a high risk of serious injury or death if not quickly identified. Delrium is a warning sign.

Delirium is not the same as dementia. Delirium is the rapid onset of confusion, whereas dementia is gradual onset of mental decline. Signs and Symptoms of Delirium:

  • If you notice your patient has a significant change from their normal baseline in their mental status, consider that this patient may be experiencing delirium.

  • Disorientation and periods of confusion. Incomprehensible words or sentences that do not make sense. Thinking it is the wrong date and year. Unable to follow a conversation.

  • Forgetfulness

  • Restlessness, picking at blankets or clothes, unable to sit still, climb out of bed.

  • Visual or auditory hallucinations. (Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there)

  • Quiet delirium is when a patient is more fatigued, worried or withdrawn then normal.

Possible causes for delirium:

Infection in the body, such as a urinary tract infection. Fevers, dehydration, pain, drug or alcohol withdrawal, medication toxicity, recent surgery. Another cause is related to a change in their environment. Consider delirium if your patient is moved from a familiar home environment in which they lived for many years to moving into an assisted living facility, hospital, etc. Usually, there are multiple causes that lead to delirium.

Caregiver tips for patients experiencing Delirium:

  • Gentle reminders of where they are, the date and time. Gentle reminders why they are in the hospital. Keep a calendar and clock nearby.

  • Optimize their sensory organs – apply glasses and hearing aids during the day

  • Have a quiet and controlled environment. No excess visitors.

  • Keep family photos nearby.

  • Provide simple instructions and allow for more time for them to answer questions.

  • Be patient, compassionate and hold their hand if they are scared. Tell them they are in a safe environment.

Delirium will most likely have to be treated in a hospital setting as it can last from a few days to a few weeks. Some people may never recover from delirium. Therefore, the best course of action is for you to identify your patient’s symptoms and inform your supervisor. If your patient is in any immediate danger, dial 911 for emergency assistance.

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