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Geriatrics and Extended Care


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Delirium Information for VA Health Care Professionals

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Delirium Care

What is Delirium?

Delirium is not a mental illness. It is a medical condition that causes a temporary problem with mental function. Another way to describe delirium is sudden, acute confusion.

In the elderly, sudden confusion/delirium is a medical emergency, and is often the presenting symptom of another underlying illness. Early diagnosis and treatment offer the best chance of recovery.

The symptoms of delirium are often attributed to other illnesses or aging, particularly in older adults with underlying dementia. However, it is important to remember that delirium is distinct from dementia in that the elderly adult’s thinking abilities change quickly, often with no warning. People with dementia will often experience delirium, and it can worsen their dementia symptoms.

Sudden confusion in the elderly is commonly overlooked in today’s busy health care settings, but it has serious consequences for their health, function, and discharge disposition. The questions and answers in this section will help you learn more about how to prevent, recognize, and treat delirium in older Veterans.