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Debra E. Heidrich

and Nancy K. English

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date: 05 May 2021

Delirium is a common neuropsychiatric disorder that is frequently underdiagnosed, misdiagnosed, and poorly managed. Often, patients are labeled as “confused,” and no further evaluation is performed to determine the cause. This is particularly an issue with elderly patients, whose confusion is often dismissed as dementia, and for those with terminal illness, whose confusion may be accepted as part of disease progression. Patients at highest risk for delirium include those who are elderly, in intensive care units, or postoperative, as well as those with advanced illnesses. This syndrome is associated with significant morbidity and mortality, leading to increased length of hospital and nursing home stays and risk for earlier death. The experience of delirium is frightening to both patients and their significant others; it impairs quality of living—and quality of dying. Prompt recognition and treatment are essential to improve patient outcomes, especially in the final stages of an illness.

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