A new initiative by the RCN Older People's Forum, supported by My Dementia Improvement Network, will raise awareness of the importance of quickly diagnosing delirium and offer health care staff the tools to identify the condition. With more older people than ever living alone at home, it is often down to community health care workers to spot the early signs of delirium and to know how to escalate a case.
Delirium is a common yet little-known medical condition that can have serious or even life-threatening consequences. Older people who are living with other long term conditions, particularly dementia, are vulnerable to delirium, and are also most likely to be left undiagnosed.
Current research estimates that around 15-20% of patients over the age of 65 who present at the emergency department are suffering with delirium and it is believed that many will have been delirious for several days at this point.
Having delirium champions in the community will make a huge difference
Chair of the forum, Vicki Leah, said: “Having delirium champions in the community will make a huge difference to the number of cases and the extent of the delirium. Being able to recognise and implement treatment plans for delirium sooner will prevent unnecessary injuries and hospital admissions. Being admitted to hospital often makes the patient even more disorientated, exacerbating the level of delirium.”
Delirium champions will be provided with a resource pack to help raise awareness and implement a delirium escalation plan in their workplace.
To find out more and download resources, visit the delirium champion site.
Don’t discount delirium
An acute confusional state that has a sudden onset, delirium is often mistaken for symptoms of dementia or simply old age and can sometimes go untreated for long periods of time. Know how to spot the signs by looking out for:
- Arousal (awakeness). More sleepy than usual — more alert or active than usual — hard to wake up.
- Thinking. Poor concentration — slow responses — more confused.
- Perception. Seeing things — hearing things — paranoid.
- Function. Less mobility — less movement — restless/agitated — not eating — sleep problems.
- Behaviour. Refusing to co-operate — withdrawn — change in attitude — change in communication.