Delirium medical therapy
Delirium On the Web
American Roentgen Ray Society Images of Delirium
Treatment of delirium involves two main strategies: first, treatment of the underlying presumed acute cause or causes, secondly, optimizing conditions of the brain. This involves ensuring that the patient with delirium has adequate oxygenation, hydration, nutrition, and normal levels of metabolites, so that drug effects are minimized, constipation treated, pain treated, and so on. Detection and management of mental stress are also very important. Therefore, the traditional concept that the treatment of delirium is treating the cause is not adequate. Common medications is used for delirium treatment include antipsychotic drugs, benzodiazepines, cholinestrase inhibitors, selective -a2 receptor agonist, melatonin based medications, ketamine.
- Delirium is not a disease, but a syndrome (collection of symptoms) indicating dysfunction of the brain.
- Treatment of delirium is achieved by treating the underlying dysfunction cause.
- Non-pharmacological methods are the first measure in delirium unless there is severe agitation that places the person at risk of harming oneself or others.
- Avoiding unnecessary movement
- Avoidance of inter-and intra‑ward transfers
- Continuity of care from caring staff
- Avoidance of physical restraints
- Involving family members
- Having recognizable faces at the bedside
- Sensory aids should be available and working where necessary
- Maintenance or restoration of normal sleep patterns
- Approach and handle gently
- Avoid sudden and irritating noise (Pump alarms)
- Careful management of bowel and bladder elimination
- Having a means of orientation available (such as a clock and a calendar) may be sufficient in stabilizing the situation
- Reassurance and explanation to the patient and carer of any procedures or treatment, using short simple sentences
- If this is insufficient, verbal and non-verbal de-escalation techniques may be required to offer reassurances and calm the person experiencing delirium.
The T-A-DA Method (Tolerate, Anticipate, Don't Agitate)
- T-A-DA is an effective management technique for people with delirium.
- All unnecessary attachments are removed (IVs, catheters, NG tubes) which allows for greater mobility.
- Patient behavior is tolerated, even if it is not considered normal as long as it does not put the patient or other people in danger.
- This technique requires that patients have close supervision to ensure that they remain safe. 
- Patient behavior is anticipated so care givers can plan required care.
- Patients are treated to reduce agitation.
- Reducing agitation may mean that patients are not reoriented if reorientation causes agitation. 
- Wandering patients needs close observation insecure and closed surroundings.
- Distract agitated wandering patient, relatives can prove helpful in curtailing agitation.
- If the patient is agitated, rule out common stressors such as pain, thirst, need for toilet.
- It is not advisable to agree with rambling talk, instead one may follow the following strategies:
- Acknowledge the feelings expressed ‑ ignore the content
- Change the subject
- Tactfully disagree (if the topic is not sensitive)
- Physical restraints are often used as a last resort with patients in a severe delirium.
- Restraint use should be avoided as it can increase agitation and risk of injury.
- In order to avoid the use of restraints some patients may require constant supervision.
- Local laws on restrains must be well known to care providers.
- If non-pharmacological techniques fail, or if de-escalation techniques are inappropriate, only then pharmacological treatment is indicated.
- The maistay of medical therapy include:
- Antipsychotics :haloperidol, deroperidol,chlorpromazine, loxapine, risperidone, quetiapine, olanzapine, aripiprazole, zuclopenthixol, ziprasidone, perospirone
- Benzodiazepines: lorazepam)
- Cholinesterase inhibitors: donepezil, rivastigmine, physostigmine
- Highly selective a2 agonist: dexmedetomidine
- Melatonin based medication: remelteon
- In agitated patients, midazolam combined with droperidol may be better than droperidol or olanzapine alone.
- Haloperidol is a common treatment for delirium.
- Typical antipsychotic drug is a preferred drug in delirium, because of its lower anticholinergic properties.
- Use of haloperidol or ziprasidone in ICU admitted patients with acute respiratory failure or shock and hypoactive or hyperactive delirium, was not effective in reduction of delirium. 
- Low dose of haloperidol and olanzapine have the same efficacy in treatment of delirium.
- Typically haloperidol dose differs with the severity of symptoms and co-morbidity of the patients.
|Geriatric population, and seriously ill patients||0.25 - 0.50mg four hourly|
|Healthier patients||2mg - 3mg per day|
|Very agitated patients||5mg - 10mg per hour iv|
- Haloperidol can be administered orally, intramuscularly, or intravenously.
- IV route can reduce extrapyramidal side effects.
- Continuous IV infusions can be given instead of multiple IV bolus doses (haloperidol bolus, 10 mg i.v., followed by continuous intravenous infusion of 5–10 mg/hour).
- Droperidol has quick sedative effect in agitated patients with less respiratory or cardiac side effects. 
- Antipsychotics are usually given for a short period of time approximately 1 week.
- Long-acting olanzapine injection, sometimes may cause delirium, this is known as a post-injection delirium sedation syndrome. 
- Patients who require multiple bolus doses of antipsychotic medications, continuous intravenous infusions of antipsychotic medication may be useful ( haloperidol bolus, 10 mg i.v., followed by continuous intravenous infusion of 510 mg/hour; lower doses may be required for elderly patients).
- For patients who require a more rapid onset of action, droperidol, either alone or followed by haloperidol, can be considered.
- Patient needs to be observed for 3 to 4 hours after administrating the injection.
- Resperidone was effective in medically hospitalized delirium patients.
- Low dose of haloperidol or chlorpromazine in hospitalized delirious patients were associated with less extrapyramidal side effects .
- HIV-associated delirium has been controlled by low dose of haloperidol and chloropromazine.
- In delirium with psychosis associated HIV, atypical antipsychotics such as clozapine, risperidone, and ziprasidone were effective.
- To conduct required diagnostic procedures or to deliver treatment
- If the patient is a danger to others or themselves
- Highly agitated or hallucinating patient
- Elderly patients and delirium with hypoactive features do not require sedation.
- All sedatives can cause delirium, especially if drugs like thioridazine, chlorpromazine which have anticholinergic effects.
- Sedatives must be used with caution with minimum possible dosage and should be discontinued if they are no longer required.
- Benzodiazepines can be beneficial in select cases of delirium, such as:
- Alcholol withdrawal
- Benzodiazepine withdrawal
- Contraindications of antipsychotics:
- Benzodiazepines can cause delirium or may worsen the condition.
- Contraindications of benzodiazepines may include hepatic encephalopathy, respiratory depression or compromised lung functions.
- Benzodiazepines must be used with caution if liver functions are compromised.
- Extremely agitated patients, unresponsive to other treatment, may need sedation and ventilatory support.
- It increases oxygenation and skeletal muscle exertion.
- Morphine is useful when pain is an important aggravating factor.
- Opiates, especially meperidine can exacerbate delirium because of their anticholinergic properties.
- Palliative treatment with opiates may be needed for patients with delirium for whom pain is an aggravating factor.
Individual and Family Psychological and Social Characteristics
- Psychodynamic issues, personality variables, and sociocultural environment are helpful in the management of specific anxieties and reaction patterns.
- The patient should be discharged after consulting all relevant disciplines in the hospital and outpatient care providers.
- Housing and living issues like washing, dressing, medication must be sorted out before the patient is relieved from the hospital.
- Cognitive and functional status (e.g. using standardized tools such as AMT and Barthel Index) must be accessed before discharge
- Discharge summaries must be complete and descriptive.
- Delirium is an indication of serious illness, therefore delirium cases must be referred to a Geriatrician, Psychiatrist, Social Worker, etc. for further workup and management.
Unique Challenges in the Treatment of Delirium
Side effects of pharmacotherapy
- ECG monitoring is required to calibrate QTc interval.
- Cardiology consult should be done if QTc interval is more than 450msec or it is greater than 25% baseline.
- Low dose of haloperidol was not associated with QT prolongation in old patient admitted with delirium.
- Haloperidol has can cause sedation and hypotension.
- Side effects of antipsychotic medication include confusion, cognitive and functional decline, sedation, hypotension, orthostasis, dizziness, falls, urinary incontinence, voiding problems, and increased risk of urinary infections.
- Adolescents and pediatric may suffer from disinhibition reactions, emotional lability, increased anxiety, hallucinations, aggression, insomnia, euphoria, and in-coordination.
Education and Reassurement
- It is important for psychiatrists to help patients understand symptoms of delirium, by explaining transient nature of delirium can help patients and their families in coping.
- As delirium is accompanied by behavioral changes, sometimes physicians and nursing staff may overlook the underlying medical condition responsible for delirium, therefore it is an important task for a psychiatrist to educate medical care provider about delirium.
Post Delirium Psychiatric Management
- Post recovery patients may remember their experiences during delirium.
- This can cause significant distress in the patients.
- Symptoms may range from having vivid, frightening recollections.
- Reassurance and explanation of condition can ease some stress.
- Standard psychiatric interventions utilized following traumatic experiences should be used.
- Psychotherapy can be helpful relieving anxiety, guilt, anger, depression, or other emotional states.
- Because of transient impairment in cognition, orientation and other higher functions, the patient may not be able to provide consent or there can be impairment of competency.
- Delirium itself does not make the patient incompetent by law.
- Emergency cases can be treated without obtaining consent however non emergency cases pose an ethical dilemmas.
- Antipsychotic drugs can cause serious side effects in the geriatric population.
- Even though antipsychotic medications is prescribed for a shorter duration of time in delirium, it caution must be practiced.
- Side effects of antipsychotic drug include:
- Low dose of haloperidol was not associated with extrapyramidal side effect in delirium patients.
Treatment of Reversible Causes of Delirium
- Prompt treatment with oxygen
- Rapid cooling
- Urgent administration of antihypertensive medications
Alcohol or sedative withdrawal
- Thiamine hydrochloride i.v. and followed by daily oral or IM doses
- Withdrawal of offending agent
- Multivitamin replacement is required if B vitamin deficiencies are suspected.(alcoholic or malnourished).
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