How will the provider decide what treatment is best?

Other medical conditions usually cause delirium. It’s important to treat those conditions to treat the delirium. The provider will review the person’s:

  • Medical history.
  • Physical exam results.
  • Lab results.
  • Drug use, including over-the-counter drugs, illicit drugs and alcohol.

The person may not be able to answer questions about themselves. So providers may ask the person’s family member or loved one:

  • Did the confusion begin suddenly or gradually?
  • How quickly did it progress?
  • What was the person’s mental and physical state before this?
  • Is the person taking any drugs or dietary supplements?
  • Did the person stop or start any new medicines or drugs recently?

Does delirium require hospitalization?

In some cases, the person is in the hospital when they develop delirium. If they are not, they will most likely need hospitalization. In a hospital setting, providers can monitor them and keep them from injuring themselves or others.

Providers try to identify the cause of delirium quickly to get the patient treatment as fast as possible. Once providers identify and treat the reason, they can often reverse the delirium.

A team of multiple providers can help give the best care. It’s important to prevent related problems such as undernutrition and incontinence. A care team may include a:

  • Physician, nurse practitioner and/or physician’s assistant.
  • Physical therapist.
  • Occupational therapist.
  • Nurse.
  • Social worker.

How is delirium treated?

Treatment for delirium depends on the cause. Treatments may include:

  • Antibiotics for infections.
  • Fluids and electrolytes for dehydration.
  • Benzodiazepines for problems due to drug and alcohol withdrawal.

A healthcare provider may prescribe antipsychotic drugs, which treat agitation and hallucinations and improve sensory issues. Antipsychotic drugs include:

  • Haloperidol (Haldol®).
  • Risperidone (Risperdal®).
  • Olanzapine (Zyprexa®).
  • Quetiapine (Seroquel®).

How can I care for someone with delirium?

Often, treatments for delirium focus on the environment. It’s best if the person is in a quiet setting. If you are caring for someone with delirium, try these tips:

  • Promote good sleep habits: During the day, keep them awake, and expose them to sunlight. Avoid naps. Help them sleep at night by reducing noise and distraction.
  • Provide reassurance: Help them understand their environment. Explain what is happening.
  • Bring familiar objects: Surround them with items from home, such as photos, a blanket or a bedside clock. These things will help the person feel more comfortable in the environment. Try soothing music as well.
  • Encourage eating: Make sure the person eats and drinks nutritious food throughout the day, if appropriate.
  • Encourage movement: If it’s safe, help the person get out of bed and move around.
  • Help orient them: Talk about current events and family news to provide mental stimulation. Reading out loud can be helpful as well.

How can I help a person with delirium be independent?

The person should do as much as possible on their own. They may need some assistance in becoming independent. The person should:

  • Understand their care plan: Consider getting an interpreter if there are language barriers.
  • Be involved in their treatment: Encourage them to ask their provider any questions they may have.
  • Get support devices: They should use eyeglasses and hearing aids to promote good vision and hearing so they can communicate better.
  • Get out of bed: During the day, the person should be out of bed as much as possible. Help them sit in a chair during mealtimes or walk when possible.

How soon will a person with delirium start to feel better?

The symptoms typically improve in a few days to weeks. But someone who had delirium may have to stay longer in the hospital even after symptoms improve. They may still have an underlying medical condition or be unable to function completely on their own.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/16/2020.

References

  • HealthinAging.org. Delirium. Accessed 9/18/2020.
  • Merck Manual. Delirium. Accessed 9/18/2020.
  • U.S. National Library of Medicine. Delirium. Accessed 9/18/2020.

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