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Delirium: a guide to a common condition

Delirium is not a benign condition — its presence predicts significantly increased morbidity and mortality, often in already vulnerable patient groups.


Mark Borthwick and Nina Barnett give an overview of delirium, its prevention, detection and treatment, highlight the latest NICE guidance, and suggest a role for pharmacists 


Delirium occurs in a wide variety of healthcare settings. It is an acute onset mental disorder characterised by a reduced ability to focus, sustain or shift attention, in combination with a change in cognition or the development of a perceptual disturbance.

Acutely ill patient populations suffer the greatest incidence of delirium, but the condition is common even in long-term care institutes, with a 16 per cent rate of occurrence.

To read the full article download the attached PDF (930K)

MSc, MRPharmS, is consultant pharmacist, critical care at Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS Trust, and Nina Barnett, MSc, MRPharmS, is consultant pharmacist, care of older people, Northwest London Hospitals NHS Trust & Harrow Primary Care Trust


Information for carers about delirium is available from the European Delirium Association and The Royal College of Psychiatrists

Further reading

Brown TM. Drug-induced delirium.
Seminars in Clinical Neuropsychiatry 2000; 5:113–2.

British Geriatrics Society. Guidelines for the prevention, diagnosis and management of delirium in older people in hospital

United Kingdom Clinical Pharmacy Association. Detection, prevention and treatment of delirium in critically ill patients (PDF 440K)


The confusion assessment method tool (PDF 130K)

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 11020155

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