Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario

Changes That May Indicate Delirium

Type of Change


Cognitive function

  • decreased concentration
  • slow responses
  • memory impairment
  • disorganized thinking
  • disorientation
  • reduced level of consciousness
  • shifting attention


  • visual or auditory hallucinations

Physical function

  • reduced mobility
  • reduced movement
  • motor restlessness
  • agitation
  • changes in appetite
  • sleep disturbance

Social behaviour

  • lack of cooperation with reasonable requests
  • withdrawal
  • alterations in communication, mood, and/or attitude

Note: Changes indicative of hypoactive delirium are italicized. Hypoactive delirium is particularly important because it is common but often overlooked.

Older Adults
Delirium, Dementia, and Depression in Older Adults: Assessment and Care
Point of Care Resources