It’s not uncommon for seriously ill, elderly patients who spend time in the hospital to suffer delirium. Sometimes, they’re already experiencing it when they’re admitted, and sometimes they develop it during their stay.
Hospital-acquired delirium is most likely to begin in the first three days of a patient’s stay. Medical personnel in hospitals can prevent patients from suffering after they’re admitted if they properly assess them within the first few hours.
Unfortunately, that’s not done as consistently as it should be. Delirium is often misdiagnosed as dementia. Further, an elderly patient who’s admitted to the hospital may have more immediate life-threatening issues that doctors focus on.
Symptoms and causes of delirium
Delirium usually develops suddenly. It can last anywhere from days to months. Symptoms can include:
- Auditory and/or visual hallucinations
- Alternating between lethargy and agitation
- Paranoia – often involving a fear of being held hostage or harmed
The condition can be caused by a combination of drugs, restraints (including breathing tubes and catheters), dehydration, a change in sleep schedule and the typical disruptions that come with hospitalization. If medical staff can reduce the amount or strength of narcotics a patient is given without leaving them in pain, this can reduce the chances of delirium. Ensuring that they’re eating properly and getting enough water is also key.
The condition can also be prevented with steps as simple as having staff – or even trained volunteers – spend time with patients to keep them engaged in conversation or other activities that require focus – such as card games, puzzles or a visit from a support dog. If they are able to walk, this can help as well.
In many cases, elderly patients are at the end of their lives when they experience hospital-acquired delirium. Therefore, if hospital staff fail to prevent it, the outcome would likely be no different than if they had. However, if you suffered harm because your love one’s delirium wasn’t properly diagnosed or treated, it may be worthwhile to investigate whether a malpractice claim may be worth pursuing.