How is mental status assessed in suspected delirium?

Updated: Apr 25, 2019
  • Author: Kannayiram Alagiakrishnan, MD, MBBS, MPH, MHA; Chief Editor: Glen L Xiong, MD  more...
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Delirium is a common cause for psychotic symptoms, bizarre delusions, abnormal behavior, and thought disorders. Agitated patients are at risk for violent and abnormal behavior and in rare circumstances, agitation can lead to attempts of homicide.

The mental status is a bedside or interview assessment that dramatically fluctuates. It includes the patient's appearance, affect (mood), thoughts (especially the presence of hallucinations and delusions), inquiry into self-destructive behavior, homicidal behavior, judgment and, in this diagnosis, orientation, immediate, recent, and long-term memory.

Delirium develops in a short period of time (within hours), and an acute change in consciousness or difficulty focusing on what was being said could occur during the interview. Disturbance of the sleep-wake cycle with insomnia, daytime drowsiness, or disturbing dreams or nightmares can also occur. Patients are often unable to remember why they are in the hospital or the events that occurred during the delirious period (for most patients, it is like a blackout period).

Patients may have false beliefs or thinking (misinterpreting intravenous lines as ropes or snakes) or see or hear things that are not present (picking up things in the air or seeing bugs in the bedclothes). Patients may also misjudge their level of wellness and try to elope from the hospital. Emotional disturbances leading to depression, anxiety, fear, and irritability may be seen in some patients. Delirium in hospitalized seniors may result in the self-removal of catheters or intravenous tubing or attempts to get out of bed, resulting in a fall or injury.

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