Delirium is a favourite topic of ours at Palliverse – it is experienced by many people with palliative care needs, including at the end of life, and is often distressing to the person, their loved ones and health professionals providing care. Despite this, it remains poorly recognised, underdiagnosed and poorly treated – not least because the evidence base is still growing.
iDelirium, a federation of the Australasian Delirium Association, European Delirium Association and American Delirium Association, has launched World Delirium Day (#WDD2017) in an attempt to raise awareness of delirium and improve its management.
They have suggested some Actions to Take on #WDD2017. I’ve listed them below & with some thoughts on how to take action.
- Commit to using the term ‘delirium’
If you hear someone using terms like “agitated”, “restless”, “aggressive” or “pleasantly confused”, think – could this be delirium? I use the term delirium, document it and make sure it’s communicated in the medical record and letters. Recognising and diagnosing delirium allows us to educate patients and their loved ones, as well as providing the best delirium care possible.
- Screen your patients for delirium
People at risk of delirium, who should be screened, include those with serious illness, those aged over 65 years and those with underlying cognitive impairment. This includes many of the people cared for by palliative care services! The diagnosis of delirium may be missed, delayed or misdiagnosed without screening, as signs may be subtle (especially in hypoactive delirium). There are multiple simple bedside screening tests for delirium, and although not all these have been validated in the specialist palliative care setting, they are still useful. The 4AT is a freely available screening tool that can be administered by any health professional and does not require training.
- Listen to patient and family stories about the experience of delirium
What may seem “pleasantly confused” to staff members can be very distressing for the delirious person and their families. Being agitated, aggressive or “just not themselves” can be distressing for patients and families to witness – it is important to acknowledge these emotions and provide education about delirium. (See “Michael’s Story: the fear on his face was palpable” for a wife’s experience of her husband’s undiagnosed delirium.)
- Engage your leadership in a discussion of delirium
If the above isn’t enough to convince your leadership to take note, delirium also increases the risk of health care complications like falls, pressure injuries, prolonged length of stay, and mortality. For those in Australia, World Delirium Day is a great time to introduce your leadership to the recently released Delirium Clinical Care Standard (which we’ve covered here before).
- Educate health professionals about delirium
Delirium does not “belong” to just one group of health professionals or one specialty. It’s common, especially in palliative care, and important for us all to know about it. Some of my favourite educational resources are freely available at the Scottish Delirium Association, plus this 5-minute video from UK-based Delirium Champion Dr MS Krishnan. (I’ve shared this before but it’s worth sharing again!)
As a final bid to raise awareness, you can participate in a #WDD2017 Thunderclap via your Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr account, to alert your friends and followers to the importance of delirium.