If a person suspects that he or she or a loved one is suffering from delirium, it is important to remember that the condition is treatable and seek the help of a professional as soon as possible.


What is delirium?

Delirium is the rapidly evolving, changing state of diminished awareness. The person is struggling with awareness or focus and has at least one defect in memory, orientation, perception or language.

Dementia differs from delirium in that delirium is a shape of dementia.

Usually, symptoms of dementia should at least 6 months prevent being able to make a diagnosis. If the loss of cognitive ability is shorter, we are talking about delirium. Especially in later stages of dementia, people suffering from this are disoriented. They also do not have a good idea of ​​time (eg day of the week), space (eg where they are) and persons (eg who they are and others).


What are the symptoms of delirium?

The following symptoms are indicative, based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM – 5), which is widely accepted as the most authoritative source worldwide. Please note Please note that an official diagnosis may only be made by a qualified person.

  1. Decrease in awareness and attention, accompanied by
  2. some kind of additional cognitive deficit, such as problems with orientation, memory, language, perception or visual-spatial capacity.

The intensity of these symptoms tends to vary over the course of the day.


Treatment of delirium

  1. Is treatment essential when it comes to delirium?
    In many cases, delirium may not necessarily be successfully prevented or treated, especially if diagnosed at a later stage. However, a combination of psychological and psychiatric treatment is crucial because people with delirium are increasingly struggling to care for themselves and manage the world around them. In extreme cases, the best form of treatment is permanent care.
  2. Why is treatment needed for delirium?
    As with any condition, treatment can at least improve a person's quality of life. In many cases, appropriate treatment can improve or even control the symptoms of delirium. People with severe degrees of cognitive decline can also pose a great physical danger to themselves or others, by forgetting, for example, to turn off a stove or close a door.
  3. Who can diagnose me or a loved one?
    Because delirium has a neurological basis, an initial diagnosis can only be made by a general practitioner, clinical psychologist or psychiatrist. They are trained to distinguish between different psychological disorders that may have very similar symptoms. In most cases, a neurologist will be required to confirm the diagnosis as well as be part of the treatment.
  4. What is the difference between a GP, clinical psychologist and psychiatrist?
    Family doctor:A GP has been studying medically for seven years. Because they do not specialize in psychiatry (such as a psychiatrist), they have only limited exposure to the training necessary to diagnose and treat people with psychological / psychiatric conditions. Your family doctor may prescribe medication, but is also ethically required to refer a patient to a specialist if needed.
  5. Clinical psychologist:A clinical psychologist is studying human behavior and psychotherapy, and must have at least a master's degree (six years +) in South Africa, with an internship and research that must be completed in order to register. It is the person who will help you understand and live with your psychological diagnosis (such as post-traumatic stress disorder).
  6. Psychiatrist:A psychiatrist also studied medically for seven years, but specializes in psychiatry, namely the chemical treatment of disorders related to human behavior. So a psychiatrist is the doctor who can diagnose you and prescribe the right medication for your psychological condition. The reference to "psychological states" or "psychiatric states" is exactly the same.
  7. Is there a specific type of psychologist I need to see?
    In South Africa, there are currently five different categories or specialist areas within which all psychologists must register:
    1. Clinical psychologist
    2. Counseling Psychology
    3. Educational Psychology
    4. Industrial Psychology
    5. Research Psychology

    The different categories indicate the specialist areas within which psychologists must adhere to strict regulations and comply with ethical and legal requirements. Only one clinical psychologist can make a clinical diagnosis according to the HPCSA.

    Only one clinical psychologist can make a clinical diagnosis according to the HPCSA. However, a neurologist or psychiatrist in collaboration with a psychologist who specializes in neurological psychology is the designated professional in the case of cognitive disorders.



If a loved one or friend is diagnosed with delirium, your support and motivation can play a very important role in accepting and managing their diagnosis. Here are guidelines on how to assist an individual:

  1. Be patient. People who are under the onslaught of delirium do not always have the ability to say how they feel or what they are experiencing. Give them a chance to get used to the diagnosis first and gradually work out an effective plan to manage their lives from now on. Keep in mind that the disorder is likely to gradually worsen and that the individual diagnosed with it has no control over it.
  2. Be informed about delirium. The more you and your loved one, family member or colleague know about the disease, the more you can work together on a plan to support the person and manage the disease.
  3. Ask what your loved one expects of you. One can easily think you know what is best for another person, but the easiest is to ask how he or she wants you to act.
  4. Listen to him or her, and don't give constant advice or try to reason with logic. It is important for the person to take responsibility for the illness and the effect it will have on his or her life. When someone makes choices on behalf of someone else, it may cause people to become dependent on you and then not want to fight the disease themselves. It is not your illness, but your loved one's. Listening is a wonderful way to support your loved one.
  5. Get to know the signs and symptoms so you can act early. Everyone's symptoms of delirium do not manifest in the same way, so it is very important to understand how the person manifests in your life's symptoms. For example, when your loved one suddenly experiences significantly more cognitive dysfunction than other times, you can start taking precautionary measures as long as possible.
  6. Participate in physical activities with the individual. It is not a cliché that regular exercise helps people with psychological diagnoses. Exercise relieves tension and anxiety, and aids in the production of low-mood transmitters. So regular exercise is actually a successful antidepressant.
  7. Make sure that you understand which treatment (as well as the type of medication) is being used, so that you can support it. Encourage a healthy eating and sleeping pattern. An established routine not only helps the person manage their illness, but also helps to see signs / symptoms early.
  8. Take a good look at yourself! Remember, a person with diagnosed cognitive disorder can also negatively impact you by involving you in their disorder. Living with a person who has been diagnosed with cognitive disorder can feel frustrating, exhausting and sometimes chaotic. Make time for yourself too.


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If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health issues, we suggest the following options:
  1. call your GP (if available);
  2. go to your nearest hospital emergency room;
  3. call one of the following emergency numbers: SADAG (the South African Depression and Anxiety Group) 24-hour helpline: 0800 456 789 or suicide crisis line: 0800 567 567; or
  4. contact Wie is ek?