Delirium is a sudden change in a person’s mental status over a period of hours to days.  It is a mental clouding with less awareness of one’s environment.  They may be confused about time, place and person.  They may have their days and nights mixed up.  Confusion may become worse at night – this is often referred to as “sun-downing.”  Mood swings may occur over the course of a day and they may have difficulty focusing attention.  Sometimes, hallucinations of seeing, hearing or feeling things that are not there may occur.  They may become more agitated or irritable; or they could be more restless and anxious.

Delirium is common at the end of life.  It has many causes.  The team will try to determine what is causing the delirium and treat the symptoms.  As a caregiver you may:

  • Keep the patient safe
  • Remind the patient who you are and what you are going to do when giving assistance
  • Offer support – for example: “I am right here with you”
  • Try to maintain a routine and structure
  • Avoid asking a lot of questions
  • Provide a quiet, peaceful setting
  • Softly play the patient’s favorite music
  • Keep a night light on

Report any change of behavior to the nurse when starting a new medication