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How Does Delirium Differ From Dementia

When To Get Medical Help

The 3 D’s: Dementia, Delirium, and Depression | How do they differ?

Someone with dementia may also have signs of delirium. This can show that there is another problem.

If someone-with or without dementia-has sudden changes in mental state, call his or her health care provider right away. Or call 911 or your local emergency number. Tell the health care provider about the signs of delirium you have seen.

How Will The Provider Decide What Treatment Is Best

Other medical conditions usually cause delirium. Its important to treat those conditions to treat the delirium. The provider will review the persons:

  • Medical history.
  • Lab results.
  • Drug use, including over-the-counter drugs, illicit drugs and alcohol.

The person may not be able to answer questions about themselves. So providers may ask the persons family member or loved one:

  • Did the confusion begin suddenly or gradually?
  • How quickly did it progress?
  • What was the persons mental and physical state before this?
  • Is the person taking any drugs or dietary supplements?
  • Did the person stop or start any new medicines or drugs recently?

Whats The Cause Of Delirium

Delirium can result from any of the following medical conditionspneumonia, dehydration, pain, constipation, drug withdrawal, among othersor hospitalisation stress . This makes the treatment for each, different. Sometimes the cause for delirium cannot be identified.

As mentioned previously the importance differentiate one from the other would assist medical professionals in providing the most suitable treatment and what other courses of action can be done to help, support, assist and reduce the symptoms associated with either condition.

Video: Learn more about delirium, from ACSQHC

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Do Dementia Patients Know What They Are Saying

These communication hiccups happen all the time to most people, but dementia affects the brain so that language problems become more noticeable. Someone with Alzheimer’s, for instance, won’t remember phrases, or be able to learn new phrases. Slang and common expressions become hard or even impossible to remember.27 . 2019 .

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Dementia And Delirium What Are Key Differences


Delirium and dementia are serious conditions that bring about mental confusion. Both may profoundly alter someones ability to understand and interact with his or her surroundings. Having one or the other is often very disconcerting to a person and to loved ones. However, dementia and delirium are not synonymous.

Distinguishing one from the other is important because their causes, consequences, and key features for treatment are distinct. This article looks at the major differences between dementia and delirium to help you understand them both.

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Delirium In People With Dementia

Distinguishing between delirium or dementia is important however, a more difficult task may be identifying delirium in someone who already has dementia. According to a study by Fick and Flanagan, approximately 22% of older adults in the community with dementia develop delirium. However, that rate skyrockets to 89% for those who have dementia and are hospitalized.

Knowing how to identify delirium in someone who is already confused is critical for appropriate treatment and a faster recovery. Delirium superimposed on someone with dementia also is connected with a more than double mortality risk compared to those with delirium or dementia alone.

Providing Support For Cognitive Issues

As a loved one or caregiver, you can make all the difference by noticing any changes in your loved one’s thinking, reasoning, or behavior. If your loved one’s memory and judgment seem to be deteriorating over time, then it might indicate the progressive cognitive decline associated with dementia. In these cases, it’s important to know when to seek professional care for your loved one.

If, however, your loved one experiences a sudden onset of confusion at home, in the hospital, or after surgery then it’s important to alert emergency medical professionals right away. Want to learn more about how to help your loved one remain safe and healthy? Please don’t hesitate to contact us today.

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What Are The Types Of Delirium

The two types of delirium are:

  • Hyperactive delirium: The person becomes overactive .
  • Hypoactive delirium: The person is underactive .

Hypoactive delirium is more common, occurring in up to 75% of people with delirium. But many people, including healthcare providers, may incorrectly assume the person is depressed.

People can experience both types of delirium together. They can be extremely alert one minute and drowsy the next.

Who Is At Risk For Developing Delirium

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Delirium happens more often in older people and hospitalized patients. Hospital delirium can affect 10% to 30% of those patients.

People in these high-risk populations may develop delirium:

  • People who have had surgery.
  • 80% of people who are at the end of life.
  • 70% of people in intensive care units .
  • 60% of people over age 75 in nursing homes.
  • 30% to 40% of people who have human immunodeficiency virus .
  • 25% of people with cancer.

People may also be at higher risk for developing delirium if they:

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Dementia Delirium And Alzheimers Disease

Understanding the differences between these terms can be considered a first step in understanding what may be going on with you, a family member, a friend, or colleague.

Dementia is often incorrectly used as an interchangeable term for Alzheimers disease. Dementia is a generic term, rather like saying car or fever. What type of car? Why is there a fever?

Dementia in simplest terms is a term used for a group of approximately 130 or more cognitive disorders. Those disorders can result in problems with: memory, judgment, using and understanding the language, problems and deficiencies in motor activity, and problems with recognizing objects and people. It can also include difficulty with executive function which is the ability to plan, organize and think in the abstract. These disorders are a result of the death of neurons or permanent damage to the neurons.

Dementia is generally of a gradual onset. Unless the dementia is one of the types that can be reversed dementia is a progressive illness that, at this time has no known cure. There are treatments available to alleviate some of the symptoms for a certain time period, such as behavioral therapies, and medications. Alzheimers disease is the most common form of dementia.

Obtaining an accurate diagnosis is critical to understanding the prognosis, obtaining treatment and planning for the future.

Overview Of Delirium And Dementia

, MD, PhD, Department of Neurology, University of Mississippi Medical Center

Delirium and dementia are the most common causes of cognitive impairment, although affective disorders can also disrupt cognition. Delirium and dementia are separate disorders but are sometimes difficult to distinguish. In both, cognition is disordered however, the following helps distinguish them:

  • Delirium affects mainly attention.

  • Dementia affects mainly memory.

Other specific characteristics also help distinguish the two disorders :

  • Delirium is typically caused by acute illness or drug toxicity and is often reversible.

  • Dementia is typically caused by anatomic changes in the brain, has slower onset, and is generally irreversible.

Delirium often develops in patients with dementia. Mistaking delirium for dementia in an older patienta common clinical errormust be avoided, particularly when delirium is superimposed on chronic dementia. No laboratory test can definitively establish the cause of cognitive impairment a thorough history and physical examination as well as knowledge of baseline function are essential.

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Tests To Evaluate Inattention

There is no consensus on how attention should be assessed, and most existing tests differentiate the inattention found in delirium from that in dementia., This uncertainty impedes progress in clinical practice and research. Several neuropsychological tests are currently used to assess inattention in delirium including digit span, spatial span, months of the year and days of the week backwards, and serial sevens. A recent review of studies on attention assessment in delirium concluded that cancellation tests , span tests, and computerized tests of sustained attention appear to offer utility in discriminating delirium from dementia. Months of the year backwards, one of the most widely used attention test in clinical practice, appears to have high sensitivity to delirium in older hospitalized patients.â

Delirium Is Different From Dementia

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Delirium and dementia are two different medical conditions.

Dementia develops gradually and gets progressively worse.

Delirium happens suddenly and typically changes during the course of a day. Some patients with delirium are agitated and combative and others are sleepy and cant pay attention.

In a Kaiser Health News article, its reported that delirium affects 7 million hospitalized Americans each year. It can happen at any age, but delirium is more common in hospitalized people older than age 65.

As if the delirium itself wasnt bad enough, research has also linked it to longer hospital stays, greater risk of falls, increased risk of developing dementia, and an increased death rate.

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How Do We Distinguish Between The Two

Distinguishing between delirium and dementia is important. This said, identifying between delirium in someone who already has dementia can be a difficult task. Especially in the absence of a detailed medical history from a relative or the patients primary carer about what the persons baseline status was. Delirium can often be passed off as a natural progression of dementia, resulting in the person not receiving appropriate medical treatment. Therefore, any acute or sudden changes in ones condition from their baseline should be considered as a delirium and treated as a medical emergency.

The exception to the above is when people with a dementia diagnosis and their relatives have an advanced care directive requesting no further admissions to hospital or active medical treatments. Symptoms can then be managed in their own home or the aged care facility.

Fact: Delirium on a background of someone with dementia are over fifty-percent mortality risk compared to those with delirium or dementia alone.

How Can I Prevent Delirium

The most effective way of preventing delirium is by ensuring a generally good standard of care. This includes ensuring that the person youre caring for stays hydrated and well-nourished, is sleeping well, and has regular medical check-ups. It is thought that 1 in 3 cases of delirium is preventable.

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The Difference Between Delirium And Dementia

Dementia and delirium are both health conditions that change a persons ability to think clearly and care for themselves. They do share some similar signs and symptoms. But they have different causes, treatment, and outcomes.

Delirium is seen as a medical emergency that needs to be treated right away. But it can often be mistaken for dementia. In some cases, these conditions can occur at the same time. Learn how the two are different, and what you can do to help a person who has signs of either or both.

When Should A Person With Dementia Go Into A Care Home

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People with dementia might need to make the move into a care home for a number of reasons. Their needs might have increased as their dementia has progressed, or because of a crisis such as a hospital admission. It might be because the family or carer is no longer able to support the person.4 2018 .

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Dementia Vs Delirium: Key Differences

When it comes to these separate cognitive conditions, it’s important to realize that an individual can experience both at the same time. For example, if your loved one has Alzheimer’s disease but then experiences an episode of extreme hallucinations, radical mood changes, and unusual confusion and disorientation, then they may need to seek medical treatment for delirium.

However, in general, here are the key differences to look out for:

  • Memory: One of the major differences between delirium and dementia is that, while delirium affects attention and concentration, dementia is primarily associated with memory loss.
  • Attention: Though seniors with dementia may have some issues with attention in the late stages of the condition, for the most part, they are able to remain relatively attentive. By contrast, individuals in a state of delirium will be easily distracted, unable to concentrate, and generally going in and out of consciousness.
  • Speech: Although individuals with dementia in late stages may have difficulty putting their thoughts to words, they usually won’t demonstrate the sudden slurred speech common to delirium.
  • Hallucinations: Though hallucinations occasionally occur with dementia, they are very common with delirium.
  • Illness: Delirium is often caused by illness, surgery, or drugs. Those with dementia often will have no signs of physical illness or conditions.

What’s The Difference Between Delirium And Dementia

Delirium is commonly mistaken for dementia, due to the similar symptoms. In some cases, people do have both but this is not usually the case. It is important that you know how the symptoms of delirium and dementia are different from each other.

There are 2 major differences between dementia and delirium to look out for:

1. Delirium has a much faster onset than dementia, with people usually showing altered behaviour within a couple of days, rather than gradually over time.

2. Delirium and dementia produce different types of confusion. With dementia, thoughts are ordered. With delirium, thoughts are disordered. Dr Strain, an expert on delirium, provides this simple anaology: If you asked a patient with dementia, what they had for breakfast, they might tell you that they had cornflakes, when in reality, they had toast. If you asked a patient with delirium the same question about their breakfast, they might start telling you about the weather.

In people living with dementia, delirium can usually be identified from a sudden, sharp decline.

If you think your relative may be showing signs of dementia, you may want to read our guides to the Early Signs of Dementia and Diagnosing Dementia.

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Dementia Vs Delirium: Understanding The Difference

The Brickmont Assisted Living Team4 minute read

When it comes to providing the right care for a parent or family member, its important to know that cognitive changes in your parents require the same amount of care and attention as physical conditions and illnesses.

Dementia and delirium are both mental states that can severely affect a persons ability to reason, communicate, or perform basic tasks. Because of the similarities of the two states, delirium can often go undiagnosed and untreated.

However, some distinct differences distinguish the two. In order to best support your loved one living with memory impairment, its important to familiarize yourself with the differences between dementia and delirium so that they can be easily identified and treated.

Brickmont Assisted Living, with memory care services throughout Georgia, encourages caregivers to learn more about dementia and delirium to better understand the differences.

Dementia With Lewy Bodies And The Influence On Tests Used To Diagnose Delirium

Ontario Healthcare

The clinical phenotypes of dementias show some overlap with delirium. For example, fluctuating cognition is seen in AD and vascular dementia however, the prevalence and severity of fluctuation is greatest in dementia with Lewy bodies . Similarly, complex visual hallucinations and delusions frequently occur in DLB, Parkinson disease dementia, and delirium but are seen in only 4%â8% of patients with AD. As a result, it is harder to differentiate DLB from delirium in comparison with other dementias according to the key features as identified by Meagher et al . DLB is viewed by many as the most challenging dementia subtype in which to diagnose DSD.

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Attentional Deficits In Delirium And Dementia

The extent to which different aspects of attention are affected in delirium is poorly understood. Marked impairments in focusing and sustaining attention are considered the hallmark feature of delirium.â One of the key challenges of delirium diagnosis is that the severity of attentional deficits in delirium varies greatly between patients , ranging from subtle impairments in complex working memory tasks, to more pronounced deficits in orienting and focusing attention, and finally to a state of lowered level of arousal whereby patients are unable to respond to simple commands. DSM-5 does offer some guidance on this matter, as it states that an inability to engage in standardized testing or interview should be classified as severe inattention.

What Is The Outlook For People With Delirium

Patients can recover completely if the cause of delirium is identified quickly and addressed. Any delay makes it less likely theyll recover quickly and/or fully. Lack of treatment can lead to stupor, coma or even death. Older persons with dementia and those with HIV are less likely to have a complete recovery.

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Understanding The Differences Between Dementia Delirium And Depression

Dementia, delirium, and depression have many similar symptoms. They have different causes and different treatments. Giving treatment for the wrong condition could have negative and even dangerous consequences for the person, so it is extremely important to correctly diagnose the cause of the symptoms.

An experienced healthcare professional should evaluate the person and prescribe the treatment. However, we will present a brief comparison of some important signs and symptoms that will help you to distinguish one condition from another.

Difference : The Treatment Strategies

How to know the difference between dementia and delirium

Treatments for delirium and dementia are not the same. For dementia, the goal is to delay the gradual decline of brain function and its impact on daily activities. Even though some pills are used for dementia, none can reverse the disease.

With delirium, it is possible to completely reverse the confusion state. Some medications are occasionally use for brief periods. However, the mainstay of treatment is to find and correct the factors that precipitated the delirium. Once the precipitating source eliminated, the brain will recover on its own and the confusion will subside.

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What Are The Symptoms Of Delirium

A person with delirium may be confused and have problems with memory, They may be agitated or drowsy.

Signs of delirium include:

  • having problems with memory, particularly of recent events
  • being disoriented, not knowing where they are, who they are or what time it is
  • problems with perception
  • having hallucinations or delusions
  • alternatively, being quiet, drowsy and lethargic


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