Delirium occurs when a person suddenly experiences a serious disruption in their cognitive abilities, such as confusion and being unaware of the environment around them. It is unlike dementia because the symptoms come on quickly instead of gradually over time as they do with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. It can be quite disturbing for family members to see their older family member suffering a bout of delirium. Having a better understanding of the condition may ease some of your fears and help you to get them the assistance they need.
Symptoms of Delirium
Experts group the symptoms of delirium into four categories:
- Lessened awareness of their environment.
- Decrease in thinking skills.
- Behavioral changes.
- Emotional problems.
The symptoms of delirium can cause the older adult to act differently in several ways, including:
- Not being able to focus on a conversation or changing topics unexpectedly.
- Withdrawing from conversation and offering little or no response to things going on around them.
- Having trouble remembering recent events.
- Language problems, like rambling speech, difficulty understanding others when they speak, and trouble reading or writing.
- Aggression, agitation, or restlessness.
- Calling out or making other sounds.
- Changes in sleeping habits.
- Anxiety, paranoia, or fear.
- Angering easily.
- A sense of elation.
- Mood shifts.
- Personality changes.
Causes of Delirium
Delirium happens when something disrupts the normal movement of signals through the brain. There is usually a triggering factor or factors that cause the disruption. Unfortunately, though, sometimes doctors aren’t able to find a cause at all. Some common causes of delirium are:
- Some kinds of medications.
- Drug toxicity.
- Certain medical problems, like a stroke, heart attack, or a head injury due to a fall.
- Low sodium, low calcium, or other kinds of imbalances.
- Severe illnesses.
- Infections like the flu, pneumonia, and urinary tract infections.
- Being exposed to a toxin, like carbon monoxide.
- Medical procedures that use anesthesia.
In addition to the possible triggers listed above, older adults who have certain conditions, like Parkinson’s disease or dementia, are more likely to experience delirium. Also, if your aging relative has had an episode of delirium in the past, they have a higher chance of suffering from delirium again.
Elderly care providers can assist when older adults become delirious. An elderly care provider can call for emergency help, if needed, or notify the senior’s family caregivers. Elderly care providers can remind the senior to take medications prescribed by the doctor. They can also make certain the older adult stays safe when they are confused and uncertain of their environment.