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Delirium is a confused mental state that includes changes in awareness, thinking, judgment, sleeping patterns, as well as behavior. Although delirium can happen at the end of life, many episodes of delirium are caused by medicine or dehydration and are reversible.

The symptoms of delirium usually occur suddenly (within hours or days) over a short period of time and may come and go. Although delirium may be mistaken for depression or dementia, these conditions are different and have different treatments.

Types of Delirium

The three main types of delirium include:

Causes of Delirium

Your health care team will work to find out what is causing delirium, so that it can be treated. Causes of delirium may include:

Early monitoring of someone with these risk factors for delirium may prevent it or allow it to be treated more quickly.

Changes caused by delirium can be upsetting for family members and dangerous to the person with cancer, especially if judgment is affected. People with delirium may be more likely to fall, unable to control their bladder and/or bowels, and more likely to become dehydrated. Their confused state may make it difficult to talk with others about their needs and make decisions about care. Family members may need to be more involved in decision-making.

Ways to Treat

Steps that can be taken to treat symptoms related to delirium include:

Talking with Your Family Member's Health Care Team

Prepare for the visit by making a list of questions to ask. Consider adding these questions to your list:


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