One of the most common disorders in old age is known as Delirium. This is a prevalent disorder that is unfortunately often times misdiagnosed and confused with other conditions with overlapping symptomatologies.

It is a condition associated mostly with a rapid deterioration in consciousness that impacts the mental state of the older adult. When an older adult is suffering from Delirium, confusion is a major symptom that is elicited, significantly affecting the older adult’s attention or ability to focus on what is being said. Delirium usually happens very quickly and within a very short period of time (usually within hours), hence the rapid factor of it all.

Signs of Delirium

  • Autonomic dysfunction 
    • Body systems which regulate ‘automatic’ systems like heart rate and breathing are affected, eliciting issues like excessive digestive difficulties, urinary issues and even dizziness or fainting
  • Motor dysfunction 
    • An inability to coordinate physical movements develops, with the older adult being more at risk to falls or injuries 
  • Homeostatic failure 
    • The body is unable to regulate itself and return systems to their baseline levels of functioning

Delirium is caused by a number of issues. These include side effects of newly prescribed medicines, having low blood levels of sodium or calcium amongst others, infection (such as a urinary tract infection), being deprived of sleep, or other medical complications (like cardiovascular issues or stroke). 

Why is Delirium important to consider?

Most importantly, delirium may lead to further injury among older adults. A confused individual with an inability to focus is always at higher risk of falling and sustaining injuries. These may obviously lead to future, more problematic issues that affect the older adult’s quality of life and future prognosis. Secondly, and equally important, Delirium is a major sign that the older adult is going through illness or added stress. For example, as aforementioned, an infection is a major cause of Delirium. So, Delirium would be a sign that there is something wrong with the body of the older adult. 

So today we discussed Delirium, its causes and why it is important to consider. In the second part, we will be discussing in more detail its symptoms and what one can do to help mitigate Delirium. 

If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here

Yaser Teebi works as a Clinical Psychologist and Gerontologist at Willingness. He works with a variety of complex issues and adult age groups, including chronic pain, mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, trauma, loss, grief and bereavement, relationships and cognitive impairment. Yaser Teebi has graduated from the following degrees with Merit: Bachelor of Psychology (Hons), a Master of Gerontology and Geriatrics, and a Master of Psychology in Clinical Psychology, all at the University of Malta. He is currently reading for a PhD in Clinical Psychology and Geriatrics at the University of Birmingham.