Hospital Caused Halucinations

My father kicked me out of his will.

Three times!

On the same day!

An example:

Dad: “What? You can’t stand up and shake hands with Mr. B? Where are your manners?

Me: “I’d be happy to, but I just can’t see him.”

Dad: “That’s it. You’re out of the will.”

Or:

Dad: “Get some bug spray and kill those ants on the wall [of his hospital room].”

Me: “Sure! Just one problem. I can’t see them.”

Dad: “That’s it. You’re out of the will.”

Now, a June 21, 2010 New York Times article, “Hallucinations in Hospital Pose Risk to Elderly” provides insight into my father’s bizarre behavior: “Hospital delirium.” After almost a month of treatment with immunosuppressants, he developed a low-grade pneumonia and a normally mild fever had the effect of baking his brain – producing auditory and visual hallucinations.

“Disproportionately affecting older people, a rapidly growing share of patients” hospital delirium “affects about one-third of patients over 70, and a greater percentage of intensive-care or postsurgical patients,” The Times reported.

According to Sharon K. Inouye, MD, MPH, the early recognition and treatment of delirium in older adults has been shown to save seniors’ lives and money and may also lower older people’s risks of permanent cognitive impairment. Addressing a May 2010 meeting of the American Geriatrics Society, Inouye noted, “Delirium may provide the unique opportunity for early intervention and prevention of permanent cognitive damage.” Inouye is the 2010 recipient of the AGS’s Edward Henderson State-of-the-Art Award in recognition of her seminal research into delirium and functional decline in hospitalized older adults and has published more than 140 scientific papers on delirium – an acute, temporary cognitive disorder characterized by relatively rapid onset and variable symptoms including difficulty maintaining attention.

The AGS reports, “Common and often overlooked delirium causes significant morbidity and mortality in older hospitalized patients.”

And, according to The Times – and my father’s experience – hospital delirium appears to have a wide range of “triggers: infections, surgery, pneumonia, and procedures like catheter insertions, all of which can spur anxiety in frail, vulnerable patients. Some medications, difficult for older people to metabolize, seem associated with delirium.” Other triggers may involve disorienting changes like periodically waking patients to conduct medical tests, isolation, changing rooms, and being without eyeglasses or dentures. Antidepressants, antihistamines, sleeping pills and drugs for nausea and ulcers may also serve as triggers to hospital delirium.

And, as the Times pointed out, “Even short episodes can hinder recovery from patients’ initial conditions, extending hospitalizations, delaying scheduled procedures for surgery, requiring more time and attention from staff members and escalating health care costs.” In addition, unless it is quickly diagnosed and corrected, delirium may results in patients being placed in nursing homes and rehabilitation centers.

Most significantly, however, Dr. Inouye reports that older delirium sufferers are more likely to develop dementia later and 35 to 40 percent die within a year.

The Times cited the findings of Dr. Malaz A. Boustani, a professor at the Indiana University Center for Aging Research, that noted that elderly patients experiencing delirium were hospitalized six days longer and placed in nursing homes 75 percent of the time – five times as often as those without delirium; and nearly one-tenth died within a month.

On a personal note, the Times article hit home. Shortly after his initial hospitalization, my father developed full-blown delirium; because his children kept careful watch over his care, it was quickly diagnosed and corrected. Nonetheless, shortly thereafter he developed two massive aneurisms and it appears a leak in one of these caused his death – 18 days after his delirium first developed.

Francis J. (Skip) Flynn, Psy. D.
7740 Southwest 52 Avenue
Miami, Florida 33143
(305) 271-0973


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