Understanding Delirium vs. Dementia
Although delirium and dementia can manifest with similar symptoms, they are two distinct conditions. Because a person can suffer from both dementia and delirium, it is important to understand their similarities and differences.
Delirium involves sudden, severe confusion with abrupt brain function changes. Delirium typically appears within a few hours to a few days, and symptoms come and go and are usually reversible. Delirium is most often traced to a physical or mental illness such as infections (e.g., pneumonia or urinary tract infections), or electrolyte and body chemical imbalances. Surgery, medication, poisons, and alcohol or drug abuse also can bring on the rapid delirium symptoms that may include:
- Changes in level of awareness, alertness or consciousness
- Extreme personality and emotional changes (agitation, anxiety or depression)
- Disorganized and unclear thinking
- Difficulty speaking or rambling in speech
- Decreased short-term memory and recall
- Changes in sensation and perception
- Altered movement (either slow or hyperactive)
- Disturbed sleep patterns
Dementia is the progressive decline of brain function that occurs with certain diseases, most commonly Alzheimer’s. Most types of dementia are degenerative and cannot be stopped. Underlying medical conditions can lead to dementia including strokes, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. The memory, language and cognitive impairment with dementia are gradual over time, compared to the quick onset and more erratic fluctuations with delirium.
Delirium is commonly mistaken for dementia, depression or the aging process. Seniors recovering in a hospital or care facility are more susceptible to delirium. Treatment for either delirium or dementia depends on the root cause of the symptoms. Delirium may resolve simply by stopping or changing medications, and certain mental exercises can help dementia. If you notice signs of delirium or dementia in a loved one or yourself, see a doctor.
How can you keep a delirious person safe when he/she is confused?