How to prevent delirium and help your recovery

Delirium (sudden confusion)

It is not always possible to prevent delirium. However, if you're at risk of delirium, there are some things that you can do to reduce the risk yourself. These things can also help you to recover from delirium when you're in hospital.

Smoking

If you smoke, talk to a doctor or nurse about nicotine patches while you’re in hospital. Nicotine withdrawal can contribute to delirium.

Alcohol

If you drink several alcoholic drinks most days, talk to a doctor or nurse about this. Alcohol withdrawal can cause delirium.

Glasses and hearing aids

If you use glasses or hearing aids, please make sure that you have them with you in hospital. People with eyesight or hearing problems are more at risk of delirium.

Sleep

Good sleep helps to protect against delirium. It can be difficult to sleep in hospital, but an eye-mask or ear plugs might help. Ask a nurse if you do not have these items. Try to avoid drinks that contain caffeine in the evening.

Keep moving

Try to keep moving (stay mobile) while you are in hospital. This is especially important after surgery. You may be able to walk around or do movement (mobility) exercises in a bed or chair. You can talk to a nurse or physiotherapist about your movement.

Eating and drinking

Eating and drinking enough is important to prevent delirium. If you use dentures, please make sure that you have them with you in hospital. Talk about how much you drink with a doctor or nurse if you have heart or kidney failure.

Eating and drinking well is also important to recover from delirium.

Constipation

To avoid constipation (when you find it hard to poo), eat plenty of fruit and vegetables. It also helps if you try to keep moving when you are in hospital. You can ask for laxatives (medicine used to help you poo).

Medicines

Talk to your doctor about your medicines. Many medicines, such as strong painkillers, sedatives (calming medicines) and bladder medicines, can contribute to delirium as a side effect. We may need to make some changes to your usual medicines.

Enjoying activities

Anything interesting or enjoyable stimulates the brain and can help to prevent and treat delirium. Think about what activities you may enjoy during your hospital stay. Examples are:

  • reading
  • doing puzzles
  • listening to the radio
  • watching television

Visits from family and friends can also help. 

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 you are not in hospital, speak to your 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.

pals icon

Do you have any comments or concerns about your care?

Contact our Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)

Is this health information page useful?