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How To Tell The Difference Between Delirium And Dementia

By , 9:22 am on
Older woman holding son's hand while discussing dementia treatment at home in Nashville, TN

Sudden mental confusion and irrational behavior are possible indicators of either delirium or dementia, making it pretty easy for caregivers to mix up the two illnesses. However, dementia and delirium are two very different health issues, making it vitally important for caregivers and clinical staff to recognize the differences. Delirium is a life-threatening issue requiring immediate care that often affects elderly patients as a medical complication.

How can dementia caregivers recognize delirium?

When a patient displays sudden confusion, inability to focus, muddled speech or hallucinations, medical help needs to be called. Delirium is an acute medical issue. It can only be clinically diagnosed by behavioral observation, but it can be a temporary and reversible condition if the underlying source is quickly treated.

Consider the following list for common triggers of delirium, especially in older persons:

  • Infections
  • Head trauma
  • Dehydration
  • Drug interactions
  • Liver failure
  • Brain tumors

Any medical facility providing care to seniors will at times see older people suffering from delirium since it’s also prompted by too much alcohol, drug abuse, UTIs, and other illnesses. Medical and dental procedures with anesthesia can become problematic, as well as lack of sleep.

Symptoms of delirium:

  • Extreme or fluctuating mood swings
  • Fast change in behavior/attitude
  • Inability to stay focused in a conversation
  • Jumbled thinking / cognitive problems
  • Unexpected emotional outbursts
  • Delusions or hallucinations

How is delirium differentiated from dementia?

Delirium and dementia seem similar at a glance, however, delirium begins quickly, whereas dementia manifests slowly over a long period of time. Delirium is a temporary condition with medical treatment, but dementia is irreversible.

Why is it necessary to understand the difference?

Delirium is typically the first-warning sign that there’s an underlying medical issue, so the patient needs medical treatment promptly before it leads to permanent or even life-threatening problems.

Sadly, delirium is often unrecognized in dementia patients by medical staff since the symptoms could easily be attributed to their dementia. Emergency help is required once symptoms of delirium are recognized.

Dementia patients frequently suffer from delirium during times they are hospitalized, but once the root cause is treated, they feel better. During that critical time, caregivers need to do their best for the patient, providing a quiet, safe and comfortable environment as much as possible.

Does the senior in your life need dementia care in Nashville, TN?

Call Home Care Assistance of Nashville at (615) 326-9849 and let us provide you with a top of the line dementia care provider for your loved one.