Home care provider discussing delirium and dementia care with son and older mother in Carmel, IN

How To Tell The Difference Between Delirium And Dementia

Cognitive confusion and emotional distress can both be symptoms of delirium and dementia, making it easy for these two illnesses to be confused with each other. The two are distinctly different, however, and it’s a priority for caregivers, medical, and emergency support to understand the difference. Delirium is especially serious and common for older persons. It’s a common complication of hospital admission for the elderly.

What is delirium?

Delirium can be described as an acute problem with a display of confusion, disrupted attention, disordered speech and even hallucinations. Delirium is diagnosed by clinical observation of patient behaviors and medical help must be obtained immediately when a family member, friend or loved one displays potential symptoms. It’s usually temporary and most likely reversible once the underlying cause is treated.

The following are common causes of delirium:

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

Delirium is commonly found in facilities or hospitals that offer senior care. It can also be triggered by drug or alcohol abuse, UTIs, and pneumonia. Surgery or any procedure using anesthesia, high fevers, sleep deprivation, and severe emotional stress can be problematic, also.

Symptoms of delirium:

  • Behavioral displays of emotional disturbance
  • Fluctuating or drastic mood changes
  • Sudden behavioral changes (e.g. hyperactivity)
  • Inattention or distraction
  • Disorganized thinking or cognitive problems
  • Reduced awareness of the environment
  • Delusions or hallucinations

How can one recognize delirium from dementia?

Delirium and dementia at a glance may seem similar, but delirium starts abruptly and fluctuates in intensity, from day to day or hour to hour.

Dementia develops over long periods of time, beginning slowly with mental decline, and is irreversible.

Dementia and delirium both appear as mental confusion, so how can you recognize the difference?

Why is it important to understand the difference?

Delirium is many times a warning sign of serious medical problems. It may even be an adverse reaction to a medication leading to a medical emergency. Delirium must be quickly treated, or it may create permanent complications or even death.

Delirium goes too often unseen or unrecognized by medical professionals. The symptoms can be too easily attributed to dementia, instead of the acute problem that it is. Immediate medical help must be sought when symptoms of delirium are present.

Many dementia patients develop delirium during hospitalization, but all that one can do is create a quiet, safe and comfortable environment.

Does the senior in your life need dementia care in Carmel, IN?

Call Home Care Assistance of Carmel at (317) 316-0804 and let us provide you with a top of the line dementia care provider for your loved one.