Delirium is a serious disturbance in a person’s mental abilities that result in confused
thinking and a decreased awareness of one’s environment. Delirium can usually be
traced to one or more contributing factors, such as an infection, a severe or
chronic medical illness, medication, surgery, or drug or alcohol abuse. While
the symptoms of delirium are similar to dementia, the signs and symptoms of
delirium usually appear over a short period of time, from a few hours to a few
days. The symptoms often fluctuate throughout the day thus a person suffering
from delirium may have periods of no symptoms abruptly followed by periods of
severe symptoms. Delirium occurs when the normal sending and receiving of
signals in the brain becomes impaired. This impairment is most likely caused by
a combination of factors that make the brain vulnerable and factors that
trigger a malfunction in brain activity.

Differentiating delirium from dementia often requires input from those people close to the
senior because knowledge of the person’s usual status is required. People who
know the senior best might include family, friends, neighbors or in-home health
care providers
. It is essential for those who have knowledge of a
person’s usual status to report concerning changes, signs and symptoms to the
medical provider immediately and not assume the provider already knows what is
‘usual’ for that person.

  • Change in attention level
  • Change in alertness
  • Change in feeling
  • Poor memory,  particularly of recent events
  • Disorientation, or not knowing here one is, who one is or what time of day it is
  • Difficulty speaking or recalling words
  • Confusion
  • Rambling or nonsense speech
  • Disorganized thinking
  • Difficulty understanding speech
  • Difficulty reading or writing
  • Seeing things that don’t exist (hallucinations)
  • Agitation, irritability or combative behavior
  • Personality changes
  • Little or no activity or little response to the environment
  • Changes in movement
  • New, sudden incontinence
  • Disturbed sleep habits
  • Extreme emotions, such as fear, anxiety, anger or depression

Delirium requires immediate medical attention to address the underlying cause and
initiate measures to keep the person safe and prevent problematic or dangerous
complications. If someone you know is undergoing other significant changes
without known reason, Matrix can assist by providing a comprehensive assessment
to identify risk factors and provide recommendations to address those areas.