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Caregivers Could Be the Key to Diagnosing Delirium in Seniors

May 31, 2018 by Comfort Keepers of San Marcos

You may have heard of the term “delirium” before but might not know what exactly it means.

And this is rightfully so – it is a vague, confusing term that sometimes gets thrown around inappropriately. However, it is important to inform yourself of the term and its mysterious nature, especially if you are a senior or caregiver to one:

What Causes Delirium?

Put simply, delirium is a sudden change in a patient’s mental status. It more frequently occurs in seniors, especially hospitalized seniors, either as a consequence of illness or injury, or because of a surgical procedure.

Delirium is a complex phenomenon. It can stem from a multitude of causes, making it difficult to even diagnose, let alone treat.

It’s estimated that almost a quarter of seniors will experience this condition at one point in their older years.

Some potential causes of delirium are:

  • Acute diseases, such as pneumonia or other infections
  • Certain medications
  • Surgery

Delirium can lead to extended stays in the hospital, declined cognitive function, physical incapacitations, or even death.

Chronically Underdiagnosed

Even though seniors are routinely tested for delirium, over 60% of cases go undiagnosed in hospitals.

Because of the vague nature of this condition and the many causes of it, healthcare professionals very sparingly diagnose it in their senior patients.

There is also an element of personal touch to this kind of diagnosis. How can a physician know if their patient is acting abnormally or not if they are complete strangers to one another?

Is the caregiver the solution?

This is where the caregiver comes into play.

Researchers recently wondered whether caregivers could use the questionnaires healthcare providers used and more accurately diagnose their senior loved one with delirium or not. They reviewed over 6,000 scientific papers in hopes of finding screening methods that could be used in the home, where the senior normally receives care.

One of the methods shown to work incredibly well is the Family Confusion Assessment Method, or FAM-CAM. Developed in the late 1980’s, it is still an effective and important way that family members are assessing for delirium in their senior loved ones – all with a simple set of questions.

This method along with some other tools led to better and more accurate detection of delirium in senior patients. Upon detection, the caregiver can notify the healthcare professionals sooner, leading to a quicker diagnosis and therefore earlier care. In any case, earlier care leads to a better final outcome for a patient.

Early Diagnosis Benefits the Caregiver, Too

Not only is this helping to ensure better health and quality of life for senior patients, but their caregivers also benefit from helping assess and diagnose them of delirium. After all, the caregivers are the ones to provide more intense care if the condition gets diagnosed too late or goes completely undiagnosed.

Studies have shown that more caregiver involvement in a senior’s care greatly increases their chances of recovering, and of maintaining the caregiver’s physical and mental health. These at-home delirium assessments administered by the caregivers are just added proof of that.

To read more about FAM-CAM and see the assessment for yourself, click here.

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