Recognising delirium in frail hospital inpatients

Kathy Whittamore is a clinical researcher working as part of the Medical Crises in Older People programme at the University of Nottingham. She recently completed her MPhil looking at ways of recognising dementia in acute hospital inpatients. shutterstock_66156211

Before becoming a clinical researcher, I worked for some time as a health care assistant on a psychiatric assessment unit. Despite working at  the ‘coal face’ of a mental health ward, I was never told what delirium was, its risk factors, its causes and – perhaps most importantly – how to recognise it.

Since 2008, the Medical Crises in Older People (MCOP) research programme at the University of Nottingham has led a workstream devoted to better understanding the mental health problems of older patients on acute medical wards. When I began working as a researcher on the project I was educated in how to identify both delirium and dementia, but the more I learned the more I realised how many other healthcare professionals where not aware of what delirium was or how to recognise it. Delirium can be difficult to identify in older patients because it presents in a variety of different ways and can be difficult to distinguish from more long-term cognitive impairments such as dementia. Continue reading