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Recognising and reducing delirium in older people

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Understanding how to recognise and start reducing delirium in older people is vital for ensuring your elderly loved ones stay as safe and comfortable as possible.

Roughly 20% of all hospital patients experience a period of delirium, therefore it is relatively common. However, both the medical conditions typically associated with ageing and medicinal side effects put older people at a greater risk of experiencing this condition.

Today, we’ll introduce you to the risk factors and symptoms often associated with delirium. Then, we’ll give you advice on useful actions to take before medical assistance arrives.

Risk factors and possible symptoms of delirium

The Royal College of Psychiatrists defines delirium as:

“A state of mental confusion that can happen if you become medically unwell. It is also known as an 'acute confusional state'.”

More specifically, the symptoms of delirium include:

  • Lack of awareness
  • Confusion over current location
  • Mood swings (fear, anxiety, depression and irritability)
  • Inability to follow/contribute to conversations
  • Unusually vivid and/or waking dreams
  • Hearing unexplained noises
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Agitation and restlessness
  • Sleepiness or fatigue
  • Inverse sleeping pattern

Delirium is most often a secondary symptom of an underlying health condition or form of medication. The most common types of condition that may also cause delirium include memory problems, issues with hearing/eyesight, recovery from surgery or brain-related illnesses.

Advice for reducing delirium

As delirium is often the result of another condition, treating the root cause is usually the only way to avoid continued instances of confusion.

Certainly, if you encounter someone in the midst of delirium, your first action should be to seek assistance from a trained medical professional.

However, there are more immediate steps you can take to make your loved one more comfortable, some of which may even help reduce delirium:

  • Stay calm and composed
  • Listen (even if they’re not making sense) and provide reassurance
  • Communicate using short, simple sentences
  • Confirm they’ve understood your message (repeat yourself if they haven’t)
  • Help them understand what’s happening and therefore what they’re experiencing
  • Put a calendar and clock nearby to help remind them of the time/date
  • Ensure they have access to glasses/hearing aids they might require
  • Leave a light on throughout the night to help them navigate the space safely
  • Help them have a snack and water if they’re able to
  • Bring some cherished items from home if they’ve been admitted to hospital
  • Make sure they’re with someone they know well (this is especially important for older people experiencing delirium as a symptom of sundowning)

In addition to reducing delirium by taking these steps, you’re likely to require a longer-term plan to ensure your loved one receives the support they need.

Live-in care is uniquely placed to help support older people at risk of delirium. Our experienced, medically-trained carers will be on hand 24/7 to reduce your loved one’s risk of becoming delirious, and to intervene should this condition become apparent.

Speak to our friendly team about live-in care and how it could keep your loved one safe and supported in their own home.

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