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Causes of delirium are not well known. It can be caused by an injury or illness that affects the brain.
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Delirium is more common in older adults. Other things that may raise the risk are:
Symptoms happen quickly. They may be:
- Memory problems
- Being very upset
- Being withdrawn
- Being aggressive
- Language problems
- Seeing, hearing, or feeling things that are not there
- Believing things that are not based in reality
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. A cognitive exam will also be done. This may be enough to make the diagnosis.
These tests may be done when more information is needed:
Most people will get better when the cause of the delirium is treated, such as treating an infection. Symptoms may also need to be treated. This can be done with:
Some medicine may need to be stopped or changed.
Medicines to treat delirium may be:
- Benzodiazepines to treat alcohol or drug withdrawal
American Psychiatric Association
National Institute of Mental Health
Canadian Psychiatric Association
Canadian Psychological Association
Delirium in hospitalized patients. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/delirium-in-hospitalized-patients. Updated September 24, 2019. Accessed October 18, 2019.
Inouye SK, Westendorp RG, et al. Delirium in elderly people. Lancet. 2014 Mar 8;383(9920):911-22, commentary can be found in Lancet 2014 Jun 14;383(9934):2044.
4/29/2016 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116623/Delirium-in-hospitalized-patients: Litton E, Carnegie V, et al. The efficacy of earplugs as a sleep hygiene strategy for reducing delirium in the ICU: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Crit Care Med. 2016;44(5):992-999.
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Rimas Lukas, MD
- Review Date: 09/2019
- Update Date: 08/07/2020