Educating frontline healthcare professionals is essential to prevent and detect delirium, particularly in elderly patients, says a physician from Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC).
“Delirium, complex and often multi-factorial, is a clinical state of acute confusion due to rapid changes in brain function that occur with underlying medical conditions," said Dr Hanadi al-Hamad, senior consultant and chairperson of Geriatrics and Long Term Care, HMC.
Educating frontline healthcare professionals is essential to help prevent and detect the problem to a great extent,” she stated.
Raising awareness about the warning signs of delirium was a key aim of World Delirium Awareness Day events held across HMC’s four general hospitals during March. Studies suggest as many as one in three elderly hospital patients will be affected by delirium.
“Delirium is usually triggered by a medical illness, and while more common among hospital patients, it can occur in the community setting. For elderly patients in hospital, delirium can be triggered by a combination of factors including infection, dehydration, poor nutrition, and certain medications such as pain killers. Delirium can also be triggered in hospital patients by surgery and anaesthesia.
Dr Hanadi al-Hamad
“Delirium is a particularly significant problem for our elderly patients because a confused patient is at higher risk for falls and injuries. In the short-term, delirium can increase the length of hospital stays and can impact a patient’s ability to recover from their illness,” added Dr al-Hamad.
Dr Mani Chandran, senior consultant geriatric psychiatrist, Department of Geriatric Medicine, Rumailah Hospital, said delirium often causes a variety of other cognitive and behavioural symptoms, such as memory problems, language problems, disorientation, and even vivid hallucinations.
“Families can be integral to detecting delirium because they are often the first to notice that their family member isn’t acting like their usual self. A key symptom of delirium is that the person develops difficulty focusing or paying attention,” said Dr Chandran.
“Some elderly patients with delirium will appear agitated or restless while others will become quiet and withdrawn. In most cases, the symptoms fluctuate with the person appearing better at certain times and worse at other times. Symptoms of delirium can be difficult for healthcare teams to recognise as they will be unfamiliar with a patient’s normal behaviour,” noted Dr Chandran.
Dr Chandran said both educating and empowering family members to spot the difference between delirium and dementia is also a priority for his department. He noted many people confuse delirium and dementia because both conditions appear superficially similar.
HMC is working with the Ministry of Public Health and health sector partners across Qatar to develop a clinical practice guideline to improve delirium care in Qatar.