What is Delirium?

Delirium is a state of confusion that comes on very suddenly and lasts hours to days. If your loved one becomes delirious, it means she/he cannot think very clearly, can’t pay attention and is not really aware of their environment. Sometimes people will use phrases such as “a change in mental status”, “sundowning” or “ICU psychosis”, but the precise medical term is delirium.

More than 7 million hospitalized Americans suffer from delirium each year.

What causes Delirium?

Many things can cause delirium including medications, infections and lack of sleep. Often, a combination of factors precipitate delirium. Some common hospital protocols can actually make delirium worse including physical restraints, bed rest, bladder catheters and certain medications. The important point is that doctors and other health care providers should look for the causes and treat them; and they should be aware of medical interventions that might bring about or worsen delirium.

Delirium vs. Dementia

Delirium and dementia can exist at same time but they are not the same medical syndrome. Dementia comes on gradually and is a permanent condition. Delirium can develop suddenly and usually goes away in days to weeks if treated properly. It is important to note though, that people who have dementia are at an increased risk of developing delirium.

Delirium Overview

Delirium Defined

Delirium Causes

Who Delirium Affects

Delirium Prevalence

Delirium vs. Dementia

Why care?

Delirium has lasting consequences not only for the patient, but also their loved ones.

Delirium Types

Delirium Diagnosis


How is it identified?

Impact of Medications

Understanding Collateral History

Doctors and Nurses

So how can we help patients?

  • Take preventative measures
  • Identify underlying medical causes
  • Educate healthcare providers and families


Identifying the underlying causes of delirium and treating them quickly can help mitigate the length and severity of delirious episodes.


Preventative measures decrease the chances that patients will suffer terrifying bouts of delirium that could result in the need for long-term care.