How Caregivers Can Help Prevent Delirium

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  • Posted on Apr. 20th, 2009

Preventing Delirium

caregiver, elder care, caregiving (2)Studies have shown that hospitalized elder care patients have a 50% greater risk for delirium, an acute and sudden decline in the ability to focus, perception and cognition. Delirium can lead to mental decline, prolonged hospital stays and added stress for caregivers. In addition, it often results in a greater incidence of need for long-term inpatient caregiving, and an increase in mortality. Experts believe that this disorienting disease accounts for as much as $4 billion dollars of Medicare expenditures – ouch!

Is Your Loved One at Risk?

To tackle any disease, we must first understand what it is, and where it comes from.  There are six major factors that predispose an elder care patient to the onset of delirium. Your loved one is at risk if he or she suffers from:

  • Cognitive Impairment
  • Immobility
  • Visual Impairment
  • Hearing Impairment
  • Sleep Deprivation
  • Dehydration

What Research Has Proven

Even though we know the risk factors, no definitive cure or prevention technique has been uncovered. However, controlled elder care studies have shown that, as caregivers, we can reduce the occurrence of delirium by 30-40% through simple methods that – get this – don’t cost a thing, other than our time.

Researchers at Yale University created an innovative elder care inpatient program to prevent delirium. The program has shown great success, using the simple methods of:

  • Maintaining cognitive and physical functioning through interaction
  • Maximizing patient independence, and
  • Assisting in the transition from hospital to home

Now the good part – the FREE things that you, the caregiver, can do to help prevent delirium for your loved one in elder care. Depending on her abilities, you can:

  • Go for walks together (even down the hall!) – three times a day is optimal.
  • Wean from the chemical sleep aids (with the doctor’s approval) and go back to good, old-fashioned remedies such as a warm glass of milk, back rubs and playing soothing music.
  • Play games – word games, bingo, guessing games… anything that gets the brain actively engaged.
  • Discuss current events – watch the news together and have a political debate (if you can stomach it). Share current stories from the extended family’s lives.
  • Let them do it – as the official elder care provider in residence, we often want to “help” more than we need to. Step back. Can your loved one button his/her own shirt? Then take off your caregiver badge and let him. It may take 30 minutes, but if he is able and willing, you need to let him do it himself. Find ways to re-introduce your caregiving charge to the daily activities she has always enjoyed (cooking, mending, tinkering, etc.)

Please feel free to share any of your own ideas for preventing delirium.  We welcome your thoughts.

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–Kim Thies

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