Below is educational information about delirium that may occur in critical care patients.

What is delirium in the intensive care unit?

Two out of three patients in the ICU develop delirium, and seven out of 10 patients on a breathing machine get delirium. Delirium is a state of confusion that may come and go quickly, or it could last days to weeks and beyond discharge. Patients with delirium:

  • cannot think clearly
  • have trouble paying attention or following directions
  • may see or hear things that are not there
  • may be agitated or withdrawn
  • are unsure of where they are and/or the time of day
  • have tremors or pick at clothing
  • have memory problems

How long will they stay like this?

Research shows that patients who develop delirium in the hospital can have difficulties that last for months after discharge and may need to seek outpatient therapy for their delirium.

Ongoing care

Nursing staff will assess patients for delirium every shift. Nursing staff will keep lights on, windows open and, if appropriate, patients out of bed during daylight hours. If patients become overly agitated or confused, you can help by sitting with your family member and assist in keeping them calm.

What can I do to help during this time?

  • Remind your loved one where they are, the date, and the situation.
  • Ensure your loved one has hearing aids, glasses, and dentures.
  • Speak softly — talk about familiar events, friends and family with the patient.
  • Decorate patient’s room with items that are familiar and remind the patient of home.
  • Keep window shades open and lights on during the day, even if you think the patient needs rest.
  • Try and keep them awake and engaged, whether it’s by watching TV, doing an activity, or having a conversation.
  • Encourage the patient to remain out of the bed during the day.

Download the Delirium brochure.