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Delirium (PDQ®)

Effects of Delirium on the Patient, Family, and Health Care Providers

Delirium causes changes in the patient that can upset the family and caregivers.

Delirium may be dangerous to the patient if his or her judgment is affected. Delirium can cause the patient to behave in unusual ways. Even a quiet or calm patient can have a sudden change in mood or become agitated and need more care.

Delirium can be upsetting to the family and caregivers. When the patient becomes agitated, family members often think the patient is in pain, but this may not be the case. Learning about differences between the symptoms of delirium and pain may help the family and caregivers understand how much pain medicine is needed. Health care providers can help the family and caregivers learn about these differences.

Delirium may affect physical health and communication.

Patients with delirium are:

  • More likely to fall.
  • Sometimes unable to control bladder and/or bowels.
  • More likely to become dehydrated (drink too little water to stay healthy).

They often need a longer hospital stay than patients without delirium.

The confused mental state of these patients may make them:

  • Unable to talk with family members and caregivers about their needs and feelings.
  • Unable to make decisions about care.

This makes it harder for health care providers to assess the patient's symptoms. The family may need to make decisions for the patient.

  • Updated: December 12, 2013