In the first part of the blog about delirium, we discussed what it is and what causes it especially in old age. Today, we will be taking a more in-depth look at its symptoms, and what we can do to help someone going through it. 

We’ve seen how delirium involves a number of complicated physiological and mental failures (as aforementioned: 1) autonomic dysfunction, 2) motor dysfunction and 3) homeostatic failure). However, these are not the only symptoms that appear with it. Delirium also comes with more symptoms in the older adult, such as: speech issues, disorientation, cognitive issues, memory problems, lethargy, withdrawals, mood issues and even possible hallucinations. 


Symptoms can fluctuate as the day progresses, with the older adult feeling better or worse depending on the fluctuations. As one can see, these are also symptoms that may also be present in depression or dementia. However, there is one major aspect that clinicians must consider. The speed in which delirium comes about is a defining factor in its diagnosis amongst older adults, as this differs from conditions with overlapping symptoms like dementia or depression. This is what we mentioned in the first blog – where the rapid deterioration is crucial in the diagnosis of delirium rather than a different condition. 

The Next Step

So, what can one do when you recognise that an older adult may be going through delirium? As discussed above, in most cases, there is an underlying issue that causes this sudden deterioration. Identification of this cause or trigger and reversing it is an important step in treating delirium. This is why it is important that you seek medical help immediately, so that your healthcare clinician may conduct an in-depth clinical examination to obtain as clear a picture as possible of the older adult’s baseline functioning. 

By doing so, the clinician may start narrowing down the possible triggers. For the older adult, maintaining a close proximity to what he or she knows is imperative. Bringing in their favourite towels or pillows for example, or even having their most familiar people near them is so important in helping keep confusion to a minimum and enhances recovery. 

Refer here to the first part of this blog relating to “What is Delirium in Old Age?”

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

Mr Yaser Teebi works as a Clinical Psychology Practitioner at Willingness, and works with patients with complex issues, including depression, anxiety, trauma, chronic pain, grief and cognitive impairment. Mr 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.