Health News: One in four people over the age of 70 experience delirium in hospital

“Older people, especially those with dementia, have a higher risk of developing delirium, but it can affect any seriously ill person, even children,” says Dr. Rakesh Arora, Cardiac Surgeon with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and iDelirium team member. “Severely-ill or cognitively compromised people are most at risk including those in intensive care, geriatric or palliative care units.”

Delirium is the acute failure of brain function and results in sudden and severe decline in mental function. Symptoms of delirium can include disorientation, inattention, increased drowsiness, restlessness, hallucinations or paranoia. It can affect patients of any age but, according to delirium experts, those over the age of 65 are particularly at risk – especially if they are in hospital for a prolonged period of time.

Delirium can be caused by a wide range of common medical illnesses, injury, surgery or medicine. Unlike dementia, which progresses over time, symptoms of delirium are significant and develop quickly.

Delirium can have an impact on a patient’s mood by increasing symptoms of anxiety or depression. It can lead to loss of long-term memory and even, in extreme cases, result in death.

“Delirium prevention is essential for any person in hospital following a significant health event,” says Dr. Arora. “Prolonged hospital stays also increase the risk of delirium, so exercising the mind and the body is vital for maintaining healthy cognitive function.” Appropriate physical movement is important as well as gentle conversation, puzzles and games to keep the mind active. Dr. Arora also suggests discussing the reduction of psychoactive drugs with your physician.

“When symptoms do appear,” he adds, “it is important for the care team to identify and recognize them as symptoms of delirium in order to treat underlying causes, prevent complications, and support recovery.”