Caregiver Resources - Delirium

Delirium is a common and serious condition that can affect a person’s ability to function normally.  It causes a decreased awareness of surroundings and confused thinking.  The onset of delirium is usually sudden and can occur within hours or a few days. 

Delirium can be caused by one or more factors including:

  • severe or chronic medical illness
  • mediations, infection
  • surgery
  • drug or alcohol abuse
  • a recent admission to an institutional setting.

The symptoms of delirium and dementia can be similar so it is important that information about the affected person is given to health care providers so that an accurate diagnosis can be made.  Helpful information includes a description of what the affected person is normally like, and what changes have been observed. 

Symptoms of delirium can include:

  • an inability to stay focused on a topic
  • changing topics
  • having wandering attention or getting stuck on an idea rather than responding to questions
  • not being actively engaged in conversation
  • having difficulty speaking or recalling words
  • rambling or nonsense speech
  • having difficulty understanding speech
  • changes in behaviour.


1.  Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario. ( 2010).  Nursing Best Practice Guideline, Caregiving
     Strategies for Older Adults with Delirium, Dementia and Depression. 
Retrieved March 2014 from: