Delirium ID toolkit boosts carer knowledge to prevent, manage the condition

Southern Cross University

Carers involved in a world-first pilot study have endorsed an online tool for assessing delirium which gives them a key role in the management of loved ones affected by the confused mental state.

The new Australian-led international research, involving Southern Cross University, the University of the Sunshine Coast, the University of Saskatchewan (Canada), the University of Canberra and the Northern NSW Local Health District, showed delirium knowledge amongst carers increased significantly through use of the online delirium toolkit.

The pilot, conducted at The Tweed Hospital on the NSW North Coast, evaluated the effectiveness of PREDICT (Prevention and Early Delirium Identification Carer Toolkit) to support partnerships between carers and nurses to prevent and manage delirium.

Delirium is frightening for elderly people experiencing it and alarming for carers attempting to support them.

Manifesting as a sudden decline in a person’s usual mental function, delirium is a stress-response usually caused by a number of underlying acute, short-term illnesses and medical complications, for example UTI (urinary tract infection), pneumonia or post-surgery. It is often mistaken for dementia because both conditions have similar symptoms, such as confusion, agitation and delusions. However, unlike dementia, delirium comes on very quickly and is potentially reversible.

The lead investigator is Dr Christina Aggar, Associate Professor of Nursing at Southern Cross University and Conjoint Northern NSW Local Health District.

Delirium_toolkit_ carer and nurse
Nurse Erin Davis (R) and carer Kate SIffleet using the Delirium Toolkit for Carers.

“Delirium is the number one hospital-acquired complication in Australia, costing our healthcare system more than a billion dollars a year,” said Dr Aggar. “The emotional and financial toll to the patient and the carer is also extremely significant.

“If a healthcare professional doesn’t know the patient, it can be difficult to tell the difference between delirium and dementia. This is why carers are well-placed to recognised subtle changes indicative of delirium and why we’ve involved them in the pilot.

“PREDICT supports family carers to understand delirium and make sense of their predicament. Having gained knowledge about delirium, carers can partner with nurses to address risk and implement strategies to prevent and manage delirium.

“We know that education is key, but we’ve never used education to support our family carers to actually partner with healthcare professionals in the prevention of delirium.”

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