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Acute Delirium


What is acute delirium?

Acute delirium is temporary confusion and change in consciousness. Consciousness is how alert and aware of your surroundings you are. You may have trouble remembering, listening, or doing things you usually do.

What causes acute delirium?

  • Illness or injury
  • Drug or alcohol abuse, or suddenly stopping after long-term use
  • Chemicals such as smoke or fumes
  • A medical condition such as a stroke or heart attack that stops blood flow to your brain
  • Medicines such as anesthesia
  • Surgery, especially in elderly people

What are the signs and symptoms of acute delirium?

You may have fast mood changes. You may be confused and forget who people are, where you are, or what day it is. Your symptoms may come and go quickly. You may feel better at times and worse at other times. You or someone close to you may notice any of the following:

  • Easily angered, restless, or excited
  • False beliefs about yourself and the area around you (delusions)
  • Hearing, seeing, smelling, or feeling things that are not really there (hallucinations)
  • Trouble paying attention, or forgetting things that have just been said
  • Trouble talking and thinking
  • Feeling lazy or sleepy
  • Not caring about what happens around you, or not wanting to eat
  • Slow to think, move, or respond to people

How is acute delirium diagnosed?

Healthcare providers will ask when symptoms started. They will need to know about any recent accident, head injury, or surgery. Tell them about all current and recent medicines, and any drug or alcohol use. Also tell them about chemical exposure at work or home.

How is acute delirium treated?

If a medical condition is causing your delirium, healthcare providers will treat it first. You may also need any of the following:

  • Antipsychotics help you stop seeing or hearing things that are not there.
  • Benzodiazepines are used if your delirium occurs after you suddenly stop using drugs or drinking alcohol.

How can I manage my acute delirium?

  • Talk to counselors. Healthcare providers will work with you to help you feel calm and talk about your thoughts and feelings. They will help you remember where you are. They will work to keep you and those around you safe.
  • Talk to family and friends. Talk to those around you when you feel lonely or sad. Ask for help when you forget the time, place, or names of people around you.
  • Change your surroundings. Keep your home or room quiet and comfortable. Surround yourself with familiar objects. Keep a calendar and clock nearby to remind you of the date and time. Keep pictures of your family and friends nearby. This will help you stay aware of yourself and the area around you. It may also help you feel safe and calm.

Call 911 for the following:

  • You want to harm yourself or others.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You cannot eat or drink, and you feel weak or dizzy.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have trouble remembering.
  • You have trouble sleeping.
  • You are depressed.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

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