What is delirium, and what can we do about it?


Delirium is an unsettling experience for the person affected and for their close family, friends and caregivers. This World Delirium Awareness Day we want to help build the conversation around delirium, by talking about what it is and what can be done to help combat it.

What is delirium?

According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, delirium is:

“a state of mental confusion that can happen if you become medically unwell. It is also known as an ‘acute confusional state’.”

Delirium can come from a range of factors, including medical issues, surgery, medication and drug intoxication or withdrawal. It can start immediately and tends to ease when the medical issue improves.

When someone suffers from delirium, their mental abilities are reduced. They become very confused, find it difficult to concentrate, and have a lack of awareness for their surroundings.

It can slow down the recovery of illness, and increase the risk of the need for care, dementia, and even death.

The three types of delirium

  • Hyperactive – where the person affected can be restless, agitated, have quick mood changes or hallucinations.
  • Hypoactive – where the person affected may be inactive, drowsy, dazy, or have decreased motor activity.
  • Mixed – where the person affected shows signs or symptoms from both hyperactive and hypoactive delirium.

What is the difference between delirium and dementia?

Symptoms of delirium can show very quickly when the person begins to be affected, from a few hours to a few days. It is usually a temporary state.

When someone is affected by dementia, the symptoms can take a long time to develop and show. Dementia is usually irreversible.

Who can become affected by delirium?

Delirium can affect anybody, but those who are older, have had previous cognitive impairment and have or have had chronic illnesses have a heightened risk of delirium. About 1 in 4 older patients in hospital become affected by delirium.

How to help someone with delirium

Below is some advice on how to help somebody who is affected:

  • Remain calm
  • Talk in short, simple sentences
  • Listen to what they say and reassure them
  • Remind them of what is happening
  • If they wear glasses and/or a hearing aid, make sure they have them
  • Make sure there are familiar objects about
  • Someone they know well should be with them
  • Keep a light on at night
  • Manage the lighting levels to reset a normal awake-sleep routine so that their circadian rhythms are less affected by full artificial lighting.

How can delirium be prevented?

To some extent, the risk of being affected by delirium can be reduced by optimising physiology (for example, keeping hydrated), orientation, fast treatment of critical illness, improving sensory impairments, and maintaining regular, natural sleep.

How Sky Inside UK products can help reduce delirium and the risk of being affected by it

Sky Inside UK are working hard to produce the highest-quality technologies, so that when their products come into contact with someone who has delirium or is likely to be affected by it, the suffering or the risk is reduced.

The digital luminous windows and skylights emulate the natural day’s cycle, thus helping people to maintain a regular pattern. Patients with delirium can suffer for a shorter amount of time. These products are calming and can help people to become less confused and agitated. As well as patients, hospital staff and visitors are comforted by the virtual skylights and windows. They find it easier to relax when with the patient.

View the Sky Inside UK product range here

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