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Delirium: Causes and risks

What causes delirium?​

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​There may be more than one possible cause of delirium. Some causes may be:

  • medicine – certain types of medicines or combinations of medications (prescription and over the counter​)
  • dehydration or not drinking enough fluids
  • constipation or diarrhea
  • infection, fever, pain, or an illness that’s getting worse
  • a recent fall
  • not eating well
  • a recent surgery or procedure
  • emotional stress
  • problems with blood sugar (too high or too low) if you have diabetes
  • a recent change in where you live or where you’re staying
  • withdrawing from alcohol
  • blood levels (for example, potassium, vitamin B12) that aren’t in the normal range

What puts you at risk for delirium?

There are many things that can put you at higher risk for delirium. Some include:

  • increased age
  • history of a brain injury or dementia
  • if you had delirium before
  • depression
  • many health issues or you’re sick now
  • ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​stressful events
  • taking many types of medicine
  • a recent change in any medicine you take
  • problems with hearing or eyesight
  • problems moving or getting around on your own
  • frailty


Current as of: May 26, 2022

Author: Provincial Seniors Health and Continuing Care, Alberta Health Services