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What causes delirium in older adults?

Audrey K. Chun, MD
Geriatric Medicine
Being older, having some degree of cognitive impairment, being frail, having a sensory impairment (poor vision or hearing), and being dehydrated or malnourished can predispose a person to delirium. It occurs frequently in patients who have undiagnosed dementia and results in an "unmasking" of the dementia.

Delirium also may be a marker of diminished cognitive reserve, meaning that the brain has a reduced capacity to respond optimally to trauma (such as acute stress) and illness. Many medications can cause delirium, and delirium is associated with a long list of medical problems, including infections, neurological diseases, alcohol withdrawal, and anything that deprives the brain of oxygen, such as respiratory, cardiac and metabolic disorders.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.