Judy Mattison is the Lead Matron for Dementia and Delirium at Northumbria Healthcare. Here she describes more about a common but often misunderstood medical condition.
Delirium is one of the most common conditions we encounter in hospital. Delirium can be really frightening and unsettling not just for patients but also for families who may not understand what is happening to their relative.
This week marks World Delirium Awareness Day (on 17th March) so I wanted to write this blog to help people across Northumberland and North Tyneside understand more about this common condition.
The latest international figures show that Delirium occurs in up to 25% of hospital inpatients, 50% of those who have had surgery and 75% of Intensive Care Patients. Delirium is extremely common in our older population and those who are receiving palliative care.
So what exactly is it?
Well essentially, it is a sudden change in a person’s mental state. The patient can become confused, disorientated, angry, upset, sleepy, withdrawn or agitated and have difficulty concentrating.
Sadly, hallucinations and altered beliefs are also common and this can be really distressing and scary. Delirium is an indication that someone is medically unwell. These symptoms can fluctuate over the course of a day with periods of lucidity followed by increased confusion. However, if detected and identified early delirium is actually treatable and reversible, it usually takes days or weeks to resolve.
Delirium may present similarly to dementia but the two are very different. Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of progressive conditions that affects the brain. Most develop slowly over months or years and are usually not reversible.
When we talk about ‘confusion’ we must remember it is not a normal part of aging, and so it is imperative to act if we suspect someone is newly confused because it is likely to be delirium.
The research shows that people with prolonged or recurrent episodes of delirium are more likely to come to harm as they are medically unwell and delirious for longer. This means they have an increased risk of falling, developing pressure sores, being admitted to hospital or developing cognitive impairment in the future.
This is why it’s so important to identify delirium quickly, so we can improve the outcomes for our patients and their families. Delirium is everyone’s business.
If you work in healthcare and see your patient, ask yourself “Are they different today” if so THINK Delirium. Don’t be afraid to ask, or to escalate if you have concerns about your patient.
To help people understand more about delirium we’ve produced this video which we hope will help you to understand how to spot the signs.