Information about delirum icon

Delirium is a state of confusion characterized by an inability to focus and fluctuations in behavior and level of consciousness. Delirium is experienced by 20% to 80% of critical care patients and is common for patients with longer hospital stays. 



Causes of delirium

  • Severe illness including infection
  • Certain medications
  • Dehydration or malnutrition
  • Severe and/or uncontrolled pain
  • Interrupted sleep patterns

Types of delirium

  • Hyperactive: hyperactive delirium is characterized as restless, agitated, distressed, excessive movement and fidgeting
  • Hypoactive: hypoactive delirium is characterized as lethargic, drowsy, unengaged and decreased spontaneous movement
    Mixed: mixed delirium is characterized as alternates between hyperactive and hypoactive states


Delirium can be treated when the underlying illness or condition is identified. By treating the underlying cause, can reduce symptoms of delirium. Other ways to treat delirium include:

  • Avoiding unnecessary medications
  • Promote sleep at night and activity during the day
  • Promote early mobilization
  • Activity and exercise
  • Certain medications to improve symptoms

FAQs on Delirium

  1. Will delirium go away?
    Yes, delirium is usually only temporary and often resolves within days. In some cases it may take longer.
  2. What can family and friends do to help?
    Friends and family can help by: 
    • Providing stimulation during the day by visiting, talking to them, watching TV or listing to the radio
    • Promote sleep and rest at night by reducing noise and light 
    • Bring familiar object or activities 
    • Bring hearing or visual aids 
    • Say their name, today's date and their current location to them frequently
  3. Why is activity during the day important?
    Activity during the day is important because it decreases the duration of delirium, may decrease the duration of using a mechanical ventilation, and can decrease the duration of a Critical Care Unit and hospital stay.
  4. What types of activities are helpful?
    The best activities for patients in the Critical Care Unit include in bed exercises, sitting up in a chair daily and walking. 

If you have more questions about delirium, please talk to a member of your health care team.