Delirium is a condition of severe confusion and rapid changes in brain function, including attention disruption, disorganized thinking, disorientation, changes in sensation. Most forms of delirium are temporary and reversible.
Symptoms may include:
- lack of purposeful thinking or behaviour
- disrupted or wandering attention
- poor concentration
- confusion about time or place
- poor short-term memory
- altered level of consciousness or awareness
- delusions or hallucinations
- altered sleep patterns, especially wakefulness and drowsiness
- lethargic or slow moving
- restless, agitated, hyperactive
- incoherent speech
- emotional or personality changes.
What causes delirium?
Delirium can be caused by a wide range of physical problems including:
- lack of oxygen to the brain
- poisons, including alcohol
- street drugs, such as cannabis
- medication, including anti-depressants
- fluid/electrolyte disturbances
- acid/base disturbances
- heart failure
- thyroid problems
- kidney failure
- liver failure.
Delirium can also be caused by, or is associated with, a number of mental health problems including:
Treatments and therapies
The treatment and outlook for delirium depends to a large extent on the cause. For example, if the cause is an infection, antibiotics may solve the problem within a few days. If the delirium is caused by dementia, it may not be curable, although it may be possible to alleviate the symptoms.
In some cases, where someone with delirium has become aggressive or violent and is a danger to themselves or others, medication may be required to control the aggressive behaviour.
Get help for yourself or someone you know.
We are the UK's leading mental health research, policy and service improvement charity. Find out how you can support us and help us continue our life-saving work.