Information for the public

Treating delirium

Treating delirium

The care team treating delirium should try non-drug treatments if possible before considering drug treatment.

If you are diagnosed with delirium, your care team should find out what could be causing the delirium and treat it (for example, a urine infection).

Your care team should explain what is happening and what treatment you are having. Your family, friends or carers may be able to help with this. It is also important that while you are being treated for delirium, you are not moved to a different room, ward, or bed on a ward unless necessary because you could become confused about where you are. You should be looked after by a team of professionals you are familiar with.

Occasionally people with delirium can become distressed and can behave in a way that is thought to be a risk to themselves or others. In this case the care team should first try to calm them down without using medication. If this doesn't work or if it isn't appropriate, treatment with medication (haloperidol) may be used but this should usually be for 1 week or less. This medication can reduce the severity of delirium in some people. It should be used with caution in people who have particular illnesses, such as Parkinson's disease or a type of dementia called dementia with Lewy bodies.

If a person's delirium does not get better, despite treatment, they should be assessed again to see if any underlying problems were missed the first time. They should also be assessed for dementia.

Questions you might like to ask

  • What is delirium? Please can you tell me more about it?

  • Why does delirium develop?

  • I think my relative/the person I'm looking after might have delirium. How can I tell if they have delirium or if they are just very ill?

  • Where can I get help? Are there any support organisations?

  • How long does delirium usually last?

  • Does it have any lasting effects on your health?

  • I am a relative/carer of someone who has delirium – what can I do to help?

  • Information Standard