How To Tell The Difference Between Delirium And Dementia

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Son with older mother on the couch learning about home care options in Dallas, TX

Mental confusion and acute emotional distress can be symptoms of delirium and dementia, which would make it easy to confuse the two illnesses with each other. However, these are two distinctly different medical problems, and it’s critical for caregivers and community medical staff to understand their differences. Delirium commonly affects older patients and is often seen as a complication in hospital admission for the elderly.

How do you recognize delirium?

Delirium is an acute problem, with a patient displaying confusion, disrupted attention, muddled speech and sometimes hallucinations. Delirium is diagnosed by behavioral observation of the patient and medical help is necessary when someone displays potential symptoms. It’s usually a temporary condition and is typically reversed after the root source is treated.

The following are common triggers of delirium:

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

Facilities and hospitals that offer senior care commonly see older people with delirium. It can be triggered by alcohol or drug abuse, UTIs, pneumonia, or other illness. Other things that can become problematic are medical or dental procedures using anesthesia, high fever, sleep deprivation or heightened emotional stress.

Symptoms of delirium:

  • Disturbing emotional displays
  • Extreme or fluctuating mood changes
  • Sudden changes in behavior
  • Inattention or inability to focus
  • Disorganized thinking / cognitive problems
  • Lack of awareness of the environment
  • Delusions or hallucinations

How can one differentiate delirium from dementia?

At a glance, they may seem similar, but delirium starts abruptly and can fluctuate from day to day or hour to hour, whereas dementia manifests itself slowly over long periods of time. Dementia is considered irreversible.

Mental confusion is displayed with both, but it’s critically important to understand the distinct differences when caring for an elderly person.

Why is it important to understand the difference?

Delirium is a sign or symptom of a serious medical issue. It could even be a reaction to a medication spiraling to a medical emergency. Delirium must be medically treated as quickly as possible or it can cause permanent problems or even death.

Delirium goes all too often unrecognized by medical professionals because symptoms can be so easily attributed to dementia, instead of the serious immediate problem that it is. Emergency help is needed when symptoms of delirium are noted.

Often, older dementia patients develop delirium during a hospital stay, but once the underlying cause is being treated, caregivers can provide a quiet, safe and comfortable environment to help them calm down.

Does the senior in your life need dementia care in Dallas, TX?

Call Home Care Assistance of Dallas at (214) 225-6055 and let us provide you with a top of the line dementia care provider for your loved one.


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