Confusion and delirium

There are many reasons why your child might feel scared, overwhelmed, and confused in the PICU. Sometimes children become confused from what is known as “delirium”.


Delirium is a temporary change in mental state. Children with delirium can be confused, agitated or withdrawn. They can also be very sleepy. Children with delirium may have trouble paying attention. They sometimes see or hear things that are not there. They may not know where they are at times. Their behaviour can change over the course of the day. Remember, delirium is temporary and children will gradually improve over time (days).

To help prevent delirium, we try to keep a sleep wake cycle as normal as possible. We want children to sleep well at night and be awake for some time during the day. We aim to reduce the medications which make children sleepy during the day. We also aim to get children moving and exercising as soon as they are well enough.

We also look for the cause of the delirium. For example the doctors will look carefully at the medications your child is on. They may do some extra tests to check for a new infection which can sometimes cause delirium.

What you can do

There are things you can do if your child is confused or has delirium. Talking softly and calmly and about things that make your child feel happy such as family and friends will help. Decorating the room with pictures and familiar objects can also be helpful.

A quiet environment is important. Children with delirium will gradually improve with time (days). It is rare for children with delirium to need extra medications. If they do need a medication to help with delirium it will only be for a short time.

Related topics

This topic was reviewed by a paediatric intensive care medicine specialist in July 2022.

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