Hospital Delirium: An Overlooked Yet Common Condition

Nov 5, 2019

This program originally aired on 04-04-19. 

During an extended stay in the intensive care unit of a hospital, it’s common for patients to experience delirium. They may begin to see or hear things that aren’t there, experience delusions, or suffer from extreme confusion.

“It can be very distressing to family members and loved ones because it’s an acute and drastic change from someone’s normal cognitive baseline,” says Dr. Nick Butler, a geriatrician at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

In this River to River segment, host Ben Kieffer talks with Butler and Dessie Myers, a nurse and pulmonary case manager at the Iowa City VA Health Care System, about hospital delirium’s possible causes and what can be done to prevent the condition.

Both Butler and Myers estimate that about half of patients in the UIHC and VA intensive care units experience delirium at some point during their stay.

There isn't a cure for delirium, but preventive measures can be taken to decrease a patient’s likelihood of experiencing the condition.

“There is no medicine that you give that makes this better. It’s really about preventing it,” Myers says. “It sounds so basic, but good sleep hygiene, day night schedules that are correct, and connection to the outdoors can be very helpful to people.”

Mary Mixdorf of Iowa City, whose husband experienced hospital delirium on and off for years, also joins the conversation.