Skip to main content


Delirium in the PICU


Up to 7 out of 10 patients in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) have a sudden change in their thinking and alertness. Children in the PICU may become confused or appear sleepy. They may have trouble understanding what is happening around them. Patients might see or hear things that are not actually there. They may be agitated on and off throughout the day. This condition is known as “delirium.”

Delirium in PICU patients can be caused by many things, such as being very sick, lack of sleep, and certain medicines. Those at higher risk of delirium include:

  • Children receiving sedating medicines (medicines that make them sleepy),
  • Those having trouble communicating, and
  • Those who require a breathing machine (ventilator).

The PICU nurses will regularly check your child for delirium. Please let the PICU team know if your child seems confused or agitated.

Help prevent or manage delirium in your child

  • If your child wears eye glasses or hearing aids, give the glasses to the PICU staff.
  • Speak to your child in a calm and reassuring manner. Let them know they are safe.
  • For older children, regularly remind them of the date and time, and that they are in the ICU.
  • Play soothing music that your child enjoys
  • Bring important toys or comfort items to the PICU.
  • To help your child stay focused, avoid having lots of things happening around them at the same time. An example would be having more than one visitor speaking at the same time while the TV is playing in the background.
  • Help keep a regular day-night routine, by doing the following:
    • During the day, help your child stay awake:
      • Keep the blinds wide open to have natural light.
      • Encourage your child to take part in activities and move around as much as possible with help from the PICU team.
      • Have friends and family visit your child if the doctor permits.
    • At night, help your child sleep:
      • Turn off the TV.
      • Stay quiet and keep lights dim.
      • Try to copy your regular nighttime routine.


If you have questions about delirium, please speak with the PICU team. For more information, you can visit these websites:



This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.

St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.

ATTENTION: If you speak another language, assistance services, free of charge, are available to you. Call 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).

ATENCIÓN: si habla español, tiene a su disposición servicios gratuitos de asistencia lingüística. Llame al 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).

تنبيه: إذا كنت تتحدث باللغة العربية فيمكنك الاستعانة بخدمات المساعدة اللغوية المتوفرة لك مجانا. .يرجى الاتصال بالرقم. 5833-278-866-1  (الهاتف النصي: 1040-595-901-1).