Show Summary Details
Page of

Delirium in the elderly 

Delirium in the elderly
Delirium in the elderly

James Lindesay

Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD MEDICINE ONLINE ( © Oxford University Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a title in Oxford Medicine Online for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 20 May 2022

Although delirium occurs at all ages, it is most frequently encountered in late life. This is because delirium is the result of an interaction between individual vulnerability factors (e.g. brain disease, sensory impairment) and external insults (e.g. physical illness, medication), the rates of which both increase with age. Our current concept of delirium derives principally from the florid clinical stereotype that has evolved from centuries of clinical observations on younger patients, and it may not be applicable to our historically unique ageing population. In younger adults, a major physical insult is usually necessary to precipitate delirium, which is often a dramatic disturbance. This is not the case in vulnerable elderly patients when relatively mild physical, psychological, or environmental upsets may be sufficient to bring about acute disturbances of mental functioning. These disturbances may be less obvious than in younger patients, particularly if they occur in the context of pre-existing cognitive impairment. Consequently, despite being common and problematic, delirium in elderly patients is frequently missed or misdiagnosed as dementia or depression by medical and nursing staff. This is unfortunate, because delirium is an important non-specific sign of physical illness or intoxication, and if left untreated there may be costly consequences, both for the patient and for health services.

Access to the complete content on Oxford Medicine Online requires a subscription or purchase. Public users are able to search the site and view the abstracts for each book and chapter without a subscription.

Please subscribe or login to access full text content.

If you have purchased a print title that contains an access token, please see the token for information about how to register your code.

For questions on access or troubleshooting, please check our FAQs, and if you can't find the answer there, please contact us.