Think delirium - suspect it, spot it, stop it!

We are asking people caring for older people to look out for symptoms of delirium, a common condition affecting up to 10% of nursing home residents and 20% of people in hospital.

The Trust in partnership with Health Education England’s North East team, this week hosted a conference to raise awareness of delirium among healthcare professionals, including those working in acute and care home settings.

Attracting over 200 local and national attendees, the conference boasted speakers including Professor Alasdair Maclullich from the European Delirium Association and Dr Ajay V Macharouthu, president of the Scottish Delirium Association, as well as locally and nationally recognised experts. Delegates attended sessions including delirium detection, prevention and non-pharmacological interventions.

Delirium is a condition causing acute mental confusion.  There are many causes of delirium which may include infection, surgery, trauma or changes to medication.  Although anyone can experience delirium, those who are most vulnerable include those living with dementia, the elderly or frail, and those with visual or hearing impairments. 

Mani Krishnan, consultant in old age psychiatry said “Delirium is a common condition affecting up to 10% of nursing home residents and 20% of people in hospital. We are asking people who care for older people to ‘think delirium’ if someone has a sudden onset of confusion. 

“The main things to look out for are whether the person is experiencing fluctuations in their mood or alertness.  Are they becoming agitated or aggressive?  Or are they withdrawn or sleepy?  Other symptoms include hallucinations, delusions or difficulty in following a conversation.

“While delirium can be a frightening experience for both the individual and their carers, it is important that people remember that it is preventable and treatable.  If you suspect that someone you care for is experiencing delirium please share your concerns with a healthcare professional.  This may be the person’s GP, or if they are in hospital a member of ward staff.  Early detection results in a quicker recovery meaning individuals will not have to stay in hospital as long, improving their quality of life.

Conference organisers, Eleni Fixter, speciality registrar and Kim Barkas, CT3 said “Currently there is a 35-40% risk of death within the first year following an episode of delirium.  However, early detection significantly reduces this risk. Our key message is suspect it, spot it, stop it!”.