A condition of altered consciousness in which there is disorientation (as in a confusional state), incoherent talk and restlessness but with hallucination, illusions or delusions also present.
Delirium (confusion) In some old people, acute confusion is a common eﬀect of physical illness. Elderly people are often referred to as being ‘confused’; unfortunately this term is often inappropriately applied to a wide range of eccentricities of speech and behaviour as if it were a diagnosis. It can be applied to a patient with the early memory loss of DEMENTIA – forgetful, disorientated and wandering; to the dejected old person with depression, often termed pseudo-dementia; to the patient whose consciousness is clouded in the delirium of acute illness; to the paranoid deluded suﬀerer of late-onset SCHIZOPHRENIA; or even to the patient presenting with the acute DYSPHASIA and incoherence of a stroke. Drug therapy may be a cause, especially in the elderly.
Delirium tremens is the form of delirium most commonly due to withdrawal from alcohol, if a person is dependent on it (see DEPENDENCE). There is restlessness, fear or even terror accompanied by vivid, usually visual, hallucinations or illusions. The level of consciousness is impaired and the patient may be disorientated as regards time, place and person.
Treatment is, as a rule, the treatment of causes. (See also ALCOHOL.) As the delirium in fevers is due partly to high temperature, this should be lowered by tepid sponging. Careful nursing is one of the keystones of successful treatment, which includes ensuring that ample ﬂuids are taken and nutrition is maintained.