Deadly Hallucinations: Tackling Delirium

June 11, 2012 10:17:57 AM PDT
An estimated 7 million Americans experience delirium at the hospital every year, a condition affecting the elderly that goes undiagnosed 60 percent of the time and can prove deadly.

While the exact cause of delirium is not known, for vulnerable older people, developing a urinary tract infection or taking an over-the-counter sleeping pill could lead to it. A stroke or heart attack could also trigger delirium.

In about 40 percent of cases, hospital-acquired delirium is preventable.

Here's what you can do to help your loved ones:

  • Have a list of all the patient's medications.
  • Overmedication can trigger delirium.
  • Bring their glasses and hearing aids.
  • Watch for obvious signs like confusion.

"One hour the patient is back to normal, another hour the patient is more confused. This fluctuation is a red flag," said Malaz Boustani, MD, MPH.

Finally, make things familiar by bringing comforting objects from home to help orientate them.

Until recently, hospital-acquired delirium, was chalked up to old age and not considered a condition to be prevented or treated.

Dr. Boustani says delirium patients also end up in nursing homes 75 percent of the time, which is five times higher than those without the condition.

The condition also leads to longer stays in the hospital an average of nine days compared to four without delirium, costing patients an average $60,000 per hospital stay.

? For More Information, Contact:

Cindy Fox Aisen
Regenstrief Institute
Indiana University

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