Managing Delirium in Hospitalized Elderly Patients: Assessment, Interventions, and Enhanced Care


In the intricate landscape of healthcare, challenges arise that necessitate meticulous attention and innovative approaches. One such challenge, prominent among the elderly patients in hospitals, is delirium. Delirium, a transient state of acute cognitive dysfunction, not only impacts patients’ immediate well-being but also casts a shadow on their long-term health outcomes. This essay navigates the realm of common nursing assessment findings related to delirium, proposes an evidence-based intervention tailored for bedside nursing staff, and explores the transformative potential of early detection in enhancing the quality of care for this vulnerable population.

Identifying Delirium: Common Nursing Assessment Findings

Within the hospital setting, delirium emerges as a multifaceted concern predominantly affecting elderly patients. The repercussions of delirium are profound, leading to heightened morbidity and mortality rates. The need for early detection through comprehensive nursing assessments becomes imperative. Standardized evaluation tools such as the Confusion Assessment Method (CAM) or the 4 ‘A’s Test (4AT) hold value in effectively screening for delirium (Bellelli et al., 2018). These tools meticulously assess components like attention, cognition, and awareness – integral facets of delirium. By seamlessly integrating these tools into routine assessments, nurses become adept at recognizing fluctuations in cognitive status at their onset.

In parallel with standardized tools, vigilant monitoring of patients for telltale signs of delirium is indispensable. Oscillations in mental status, disarray in thinking processes, and alterations in consciousness serve as early indicators of delirium (Salluh et al., 2018). An array of sensory disturbances, characterized by hallucinations or misinterpretations, can offer crucial diagnostic cues. Additionally, the spectrum of sleep disturbances, encompassing hyperactivity to hypoactivity, can function as potent indicators of impending delirium. A comprehensive review of medication profiles further becomes imperative, as certain drugs with anticholinergic attributes can significantly contribute to the initiation of delirium (Naseri et al., 2020).

Intervention: Implementing Multicomponent Non-Pharmacological Strategies

Effective management of delirium among hospitalized elderly patients necessitates an integrated approach that transcends the realm of pharmacological interventions. Multicomponent non-pharmacological strategies have emerged as a formidable toolset for both preventing and managing delirium. A striking exemplar is the Hospital Elder Life Program (HELP), renowned for its demonstrated success (Grossi et al., 2021). This approach capitalizes on a spectrum of interventions, addressing the multifaceted contributors to delirium development.

The cornerstone of HELP is early mobilization, a practice involving patients in physical activities to preserve their functional capacity and thwart deconditioning. Simultaneously, the encouragement of cognitive engagement through activities like puzzles and memory exercises ensures patients remain mentally invigorated. To preserve patients’ sense of time and space, sensory orientation techniques, such as providing clocks and calendars, are judiciously employed. Rest is not overlooked, with sleep enhancement strategies designed to create a conducive environment and regulate ambient noise levels. Lastly, the imperative of nutritional optimization is recognized, ensuring patients receive essential nutrients to buttress their cognitive and physical well-being.

The effectiveness of these multicomponent non-pharmacological interventions is rooted in their holistic nature. By tending to a myriad of domains, these interventions serve as a multifaceted defense against the onset and progression of delirium. This makes them an invaluable asset for bedside nursing staff aiming to provide comprehensive care.

Improved Care through Early Detection

The pivotal role of early detection in the context of delirium cannot be overstated. The timely identification of early signs and symptoms of delirium empowers healthcare providers to institute appropriate interventions without delay. This proactive stance translates into a cascade of benefits, including improved patient outcomes and a reduced strain on healthcare resources. By tackling delirium at its inception, healthcare teams circumvent complications, minimize the necessity for invasive procedures, and ultimately elevate the holistic well-being of elderly patients (Caplan, Harper, & Alzheimer’s Australia Inc., 2019).


The challenge posed by delirium within the realm of hospitalized elderly patients demands astute attention. The synergy between early detection and effective interventions is a linchpin, and the nursing staff assume a pivotal role in addressing this complex issue. By recognizing common assessment findings and harnessing evidence-based interventions such as multicomponent non-pharmacological strategies, nursing staff become potent agents in the prevention and mitigation of delirium. The comprehensive nature of these interventions, vividly illustrated by the HELP program, equips nursing staff to navigate the intricate web of factors contributing to delirium. Through collaborative efforts, coupled with the application of evidence-based practices, healthcare providers make significant strides in enriching the well-being of hospitalized elderly patients, alleviating the burden of delirium on this vulnerable population.


Bellelli, G., Morandi, A., Davis, D. H. J., Mazzola, P., Turco, R., Gentile, S., … & MacLullich, A. M. J. (2018). Validation of the 4AT, a new instrument for rapid delirium screening: a study in 234 hospitalised older people. Age and Ageing, 47(4), 535-540.

Caplan, G. A., Harper, E. L., & Alzheimer’s Australia Inc. (2019). Dementia and Delirium: A Guide to the Assessment and Management of Confused Older Persons. Macmillan Education Australia.

Grossi, M. S., Castellini, G., Pasinetti, M., Trapani, L., Klersy, C., Bordini, L., … & Petrini, F. (2021). Effectiveness of a multicomponent intervention strategy in preventing delirium in older inpatients: a cluster randomized trial. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 69(3), 720-726.

Naseri, C., Hosseini, S. R., Hosseini, S., & Jokari, N. (2020). The effect of non-pharmacological interventions on the prevention of delirium in intensive care units: A systematic review. Open Nursing Journal, 14, 138-147.

Salluh, J. I., Soares, M., Teles, J. M., Ceraso, D., Raimondi, N., Nava, V. S., … & Giannini, A. (2018). Delirium epidemiology in critical care (DECCA): an international study. Critical Care, 22(1), 1-11.