Delirium often strikes suddenly, causing a marked disturbance in a person’s mental functioning. Although it is not actually a disease, it is definitely not a normal mental state. It is usually a temporary condition which is reversible once the underlying mental or physical cause has been treated. It can cause rapid mental fluctuations, with the patient becoming lethargic one moment and highly agitated the next. Although it is commonly thought of as a condition affecting elderly people, it can actually affect people of all ages. Once delirium begins, it will usually get progressively worse until the underlying cause is treated.
Symptoms of Delirium
Symptoms usually appear suddenly and can result in disorientation and confusion. A person affected by delirium will have problems concentrating and will usually lack an understanding of what is going on around them. They might suffer from visual hallucinations, which can result in paranoia. There might also be an abrupt change in mood and personality, with the person becoming angry, depressed, anxious, irritable or even euphoric. Sleep disturbances can also occur.
What Can Cause Delirium?
There are many physical problems that can cause delirium, including strokes, heart, kidney or liver failure, thyroid disorders, or a high level of carbon dioxide in the body. It can also be caused by psychiatric conditions such as depression. Additionally, certain kinds of psychoactive drugs can affect how the brain functions, resulting in delirium. Some people are especially susceptible to developing delirium, such as elderly people, those who have had a stroke or are suffering from dementia, and those with Parkinson’s disease or other kinds of nerve degeneration. In these cases, delirium can often have relatively simple causes, such as a lack of sleep, social isolation, dehydration or a mild infection. It tends to be more common in older individuals, but drug use or underlying physical disorders can also cause delirium in younger people.
Treatments and Cures
It is important to understand that it is the underlying cause of the delirium, and not the delirium itself, that must be successfully treated. In many cases the person may need to be temporarily hospitalized. If the patient is taking any medications that are known to cause confusion, it can be helpful to substitute another medication. Any physical issues that could be contributing to the confusion should be treated, such as thyroid disorders, nutritional deficiencies, or organ failures. Medications such as mood stabilizers, sedatives, and dopamine blockers are also sometimes utilized to help bring delirium under control. If the person normally wears glasses or hearing aids, they should not be deprived of their use, even if they are in the hospital. Likewise, having access to familiar items such as family photographs, clocks, and calendars can help a person properly orient themselves. Having a family member in the room with them at all times can also be helpful. In some cases, physical restraint can become necessary to prevent the patient from hurting themselves. If the cause is not identified and treated, the patient could fall into an unresponsive and drowsy state known as a stupor, which could result in a coma or even death. However, if the underlying causes of delirium are treated promptly, there is a good chance of full recovery.