Communicate with doctors
If you are a family member or friend, try to make it clear to doctors and other health care providers what your loved one’s “usual” mental status is. Doctors might call this a patient’s “baseline”.
Communicate clearly and concisely with your loved one
Don’t say too much or bring up complicated issues; you can repeat verbal reminders about what day it is, or the time and location, if it seems to make your loved one feel more secure. However, be careful not to overdo this as it can cause frustration or agitation sometimes.
Your loved one may not recognize you
If this is the case, do not take it personally, this is a common occurrence and an accepted part of the condition. Introduce yourself each time if necessary. Your loved one may say and do things that are completely out of character. Remind yourself that this is due to the delirium and that this will recover when the delirium improves or resolves.
Keep instructions simple
If you try to help your loved one with some basic needs (getting to the chair or bathroom, helping them eat or dress), try to keep instructions simple (this is called “a one-step command”). If your loved ones can’t do what needs to be done, do not argue or try to reason. Simply try again later.
Bring in familiar objects from your loved one’s home
Family photos or small familiar objects may help calm your loved one during a stressful hospital stay.
Use TV or radio for relaxation
You can use TV or radio for relaxation and to help maintain contact with outside world but be careful because in some cases TV and radio (external stimulation) may cause anxiety and agitation.
Do not directly dispute delusions
Remind yourself that hallucinations and delusions are related to the delirium. Do not directly dispute hallucinations and delusions expressed by your loved ones. Instead, provide reassurance.
Change the subject or environment
If your loved one is fixated or stuck on a topic or issue that is causing them anxiety or agitation, sometimes changing the subject or the environment (getting them out of the bed or room) works better than trying to resolve the issue.
Communicate with friends and visitors
Discuss with other family and friends who are visitors about the above, and remind them one of the most important strategies in the care of someone who has delirium is to help them feel secure and safe.
Patients & Family Overview:
Helping Patients and Families Prepare for Surgery
Delirium is a rapid change in mental status. When delirium occurs it can be a frightening experience for caregivers and families. This video was developed to guide families through the initial phases of delirium treatment. This video was developed by Barbara Kamholz, MD during her tenure as a federal employee. She has given me permission to present it here, reproduction requires that appropriate credit be given.