Commission launches new care standards for managing delirium

The new guidelines will help centre the role of families and carers in looking after those experiencing delirium. Image credit: Getty

The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care will launch new clinical care standards for handling delirium that recognises both COVID-19 and the value of family and carer support.

The new standards, which are an update to previously released guidelines for the management of delirium from 2016, are being unveiled at the Australian Delirium Association’s DECLARED 2021 Conference this week.

According to the Commission’s Clinical Director, Dr Carolyn Hullick, who specialises in aged care, the standards will help to ensure those experiencing delirium will be directed to the “right care pathways”.

“The clinical care standard encourages the early recognition of people who are most at risk of delirium, so that steps can be taken to reduce their risk. It also encourages healthcare workers to be alert to changes in behaviour that may be due to delirium,” Dr Hullick said.

“The Delirium Clinical Care Standard has helped to embed the right processes into hospital care. The 2021 standard strengthens the need for patient information and involvement of carers and family, if the person wants this. The patient focus has never been more important than during this pandemic.”

Doctor Hullick also noted that the pandemic has created new challenges in managing delirium.

“To prevent delirium we usually try to keep things as familiar and normal as possible for these patients in hospital,” she said.

“Unfortunately, protective equipment such as masks and shields can be depersonalising and disorienting; while visitor limits can increase feelings of isolation and anxiety in people who are particularly vulnerable.”

The Commission’s Cognitive Impairment Advisory Group Chair, Professor Susan Kurrie, who is also the Curran Chair in Health Care of Older People in the Faculty of Medicine and Health at the University of Sydney, said that the new standards further added to their earlier iteration.

“Since 2016, the clinical care standard has supported the delivery of high-quality care for people with delirium. It has demonstrated that there are better ways to care for people with cognitive impairment, who are often our older patients,” Professor Kurrie said.

“The new patient-centred quality statement in the Delirium Clinical Care Standard is a really important addition, as it recognises the importance of carers and family members.”

According to the Commission, Delirium costs the country around $8.8 billion per year. It is one of the most regularly occurring conditions experienced by patients in hospitals, but is potentially preventable in up to two thirds of hospitalised patients.

The new standards are endorsed by a variety of organisations, including the Australasian Delirium Association, Dementia Australia and Australian and New Zealand Society for Geriatric Medicine, and are downloadable from the Commission’s website here.

Further Resources on “Cognitive Impairment and COVID-19” are also provided by the Commission at their website.

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