What You Can Do

What you can do if your family member is delirious

When a loved one is experiencing delirium during a hospitalization, it can be helpful if possible to have a family member or caregiver present as much as possible.  This will help alleviate some of the anxiety caused by being in an unfamiliar setting.  The person with delirium will do best in a quiet setting, but should not be left alone as this may worsen the confusion. Family or close friends should be encouraged to stay with the patient while the confusion is severe, particularly at night, as this can be both helpful and reassuring to the patient. Familiar objects from home (i.e., photos, blanket, bedside clock) can be helpful in an unfamiliar environment. Good (but not harsh) lighting and soothing music are usually beneficial as well. Glasses and hearing aids, if normally worn, should be provided so the patient can see and hear properly, reducing confusion as to what is happening around them. It is also important to keep the patient mobile and assure that there are no physical restraints used as that can worsen the confusion. Walking with your family member if possible can be a key factor in making sure he or she has the best recovery possible. Making sure your family member is properly fed and hydrated is also recommended.

It is important to talk to the patient about the delirious episode. Patients are often aware that they have experienced an episode of confusion and would like to talk it through with you. They may recall the episode like a confusing dream, or not recall anything. The healthcare professionals involved may also be able to provide helpful advice or you can seek advice from a specialist, such as a licensed psychologist. The episode is important to discuss, and should not be avoided. Discussing the experience with the patient can help to alleviate the anxiety, fear, frustration, or anger that might otherwise develop. 

Tips to Reduce Risk

Do you have an older relative in the hospital? By taking these ten steps, you may be able to reduce the risk of delirium.

Avoid Confusion in the Hospital – Ten Tips

  1. Bring a complete list of all medications (with their dosages), as well as over-the-counter medicines to the hospital. It may help to bring the medication bottles as well.
  2. Prepare a “medical information sheet” listing all allergies, names and phone numbers of physicians, the name of the patient’s usual pharmacy and all known medical conditions. Also, be sure all pertinent medical records have been forwarded to the doctors who will be caring for the patient.
  3. Bring glasses, hearing aids (with fresh batteries), and dentures to the hospital. Older persons do better if they can see, hear and eat.
  4. Bring in a few familiar objects from home. Things such as family photos, a favorite comforter or blanket for the bed, rosary beads, a beloved book and relaxation tapes can be quite comforting.
  5. Help orient the patient throughout the day. Speak in a calm, reassuring tone of voice and tell the patient where he is and why he is there.
  6. When giving instructions, state one fact or simple task at a time. Do not overwhelm or over stimulate the patient.
  7. Massage can be soothing for some patients.
  8. Stay with the hospitalized patient as much as possible. During an acute episode of delirium, relatives should try to arrange shifts so someone can be present around the clock.
  9. If you detect new signs that could indicate delirium — confusion, memory problems, personality changes — it is important to discuss these with the nurses or physicians as soon as you can. Family members are often the first to notice subtle changes.
  10. Find out more about delirium.  Click here for useful websites on delirium.