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Delirium is a sudden change in a person’s mental state and how clearly the person thinks. It happens most often in older people who have a serious illness. There is a greater risk if the person has dementia. But delirium can happen at any age. And it does not always happen in someone with a serious illness.
Delirium is seen as a medical emergency. It needs to be looked at by a health care provider right away.
Delirium can happen while a person has treatment for an illness or other serious health condition. It can happen after surgery. The person may be in a hospital or nursing home. Or he or she may be at home. Delirium often goes unrecognized in older adults.
A person is at risk for delirium if he or she has one or more of the following:
Existing case of dementia
Age 65 or older
Any serious illness, such as cancer, heart attack, or metabolism problem
Been admitted to intensive care in a hospital
Been using or is withdrawing from drugs or alcohol
Previous or current brain injury or disease
A bladder catheter
Broken bones, especially those that require orthopedic surgery
Sleep problems because of light, noise, or other disruptions
Constant or severe pain that is not well-managed
Poor eyesight or hearing
Invasive medical tests and treatments in a short time
Lack of mobility
Recently had surgery under anesthesia
Certain medicines can increase a person’s risk of having an episode of delirium. They include:
Prescription medicines. This includes sedatives, narcotics, antispasmodics, antibiotics, muscle relaxants, steroids, high blood pressure medicine, antacids, antidepressants, heart medications, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen, and pain medicines.
Over-the-counter medicines. This includes allergy medicine, cough medicine, sleeping pills, and antinausea medicine. Diphenhydramine (Benadryl), found in many allergy and sleeping pills, is a very common cause.
Some herbal medicines
Delirium is a medical emergency. If you think that your loved one has delirium, get medical help right away.