How to help someone with delirium

Delirium (sudden confusion)

It can be distressing to see someone that you know with delirium. There are things that family, friends and carers can do to help people when they are delirious.

Our getting to know you form

We want you to feel part of the team. Your contribution to the person's delirium care is important. As you know the person best, you can help our staff to understand who they are and what might work for them.

We'd be grateful if you could fill in our 'getting to know you' form or ask a member of staff for one.

Please give this form to a member of staff. This allows us to personalise our care for the person.

Please also tell us if the person is a heavy smoker or drinker, or regularly uses sleeping pills or sedatives (calming medicines). Sometimes withdrawal from these things can make delirium worse. The person may need specific treatments.

How to support someone in hospital

Please make sure that the person has:

  • their glasses, hearing aids or dentures
  • familiar items, such as photos of loved ones or other comforting objects

It is important that the person with delirium eats and drinks well. We try to supervise mealtimes if needed. However, if the person has any favourite foods or finds some foods comforting, you can bring them to the hospital.

It is helpful to visit the person with delirium as often as you can. You can talk to the nurses about coming outside of visiting hours. Seeing a familiar person can be reassuring for the person with delirium and help in their treatment.

When you visit the person, it may help to talk about the past or encourage them to do enjoyable activities. If the person is well enough, they might enjoy a short, supervised trip out of the ward. You can ask the nurses if this is possible. 

As delirium improves

Delirium is distressing for everyone. However, when we have treated or managed the causes of delirium, the symptoms usually improve with time.

As delirium improves, you may see confusion that appears to come and go. This is normal while delirium resolves. Some people get back to normal completely. Others continue to live with some confusion and are less able than usual to do their daily tasks.

Some people have unpleasant memories of their experiences. These usually get better with time, but sometimes never go away completely. Being at home again can help to make the person's recovery from delirium quicker.

Preventing falls at home

When someone leaves hospital after delirium, they may still have a higher risk of falling. You can support them by making any changes in the home that they need to stay safe. Try to make sure that:

  • you remove any hazards in the home
  • they have a clear pathway to the bathroom
  • their glasses are nearby
  • any usual walking aids, such as sticks, zimmer frames or trolleys, are within reach

Resource number: 3532/VER4
Last reviewed: June 2020
Next review: June 2023

Contact us

If you have any questions or concerns about delirium, speak to a nurse or doctor. If the person with delirium is not in hospital, speak to their GP or community nurses.

You can also contact the delirium and dementia team.

Phone: 020 7188 7188 extension 53293. Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.

Out of hours, please call 020 7188 7188 and ask for the site nurse practitioner on duty.

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Do you have any comments or concerns about your care?

Contact our Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)

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