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What Is The Difference Between Delirium And Dementia

Summary Delirium Vs Dementia

What is the difference between Delirium and Dementia? | Delirium vs Dementia Mnemonic OCD CAMPS

Delirium, which is also known as acute organic psychosis or toxic confusional state, is an acute or subacute brain failure in which the impairment of attention is accompanied by abnormalities in mood and perception. A diagnosis of dementia is made by observing acquired loss of higher mental functions, sufficient severity to cause social or occupational impairment, and occurring in clear consciousness. Unlike in dementia where there is no change in the patients level of consciousness, in delirium, the consciousness is impaired. This is the major difference between delirium and dementia.


1.Kumar, Parveen J., and Michael L. Clark. Kumar & Clark clinical medicine. Edinburgh: W.B. Saunders, 2009.

Image Courtesy:

1. Delirium by Erich Ferdinand via Flickr2. 63612 via Pixabay

The Delirium Definition: What Exactly Does It Mean

According to the Mayo Clinic, delirium is a rapid-onset cognitive disturbance that seriously impacts thinking and causes disorientation or reduced awareness of surroundings.

Delirium and dementia are closely related because dementia is one of the top delirium causes, especially in individuals over the age of 65. Additional risk factors and causes include having multiple medical conditions like a severe or chronic illness, poor hearing or vision, an electrolyte disorder or infection, taking multiple prescription medications, or injury, pain or stress.

Symptoms of delirium typically come on rapidly, either within a couple of hours or a few days, and include:

  • Exhibiting a reduced ability to stay focused on a conversation or getting stuck on one idea.
  • Becoming withdrawn with little or no response or reaction to the surrounding environment.
  • Demonstrating cognitive impairment in the form of poor memory or disorientation.
  • Having trouble speaking or recalling words rambling having trouble with reading or writing.
  • Experiencing restlessness, disturbed sleep habits, or a reversal of the sleep and wake cycles.
  • Displaying changes in behavior such as combativeness anxiety, fear or paranoia apathy or, conversely, an extreme sense of elation or euphoria depression and other rapid shifts in mood or personality.

The Distinction Of Delirium

Delirium is a neuropsychiatric condition that occurs acutely, rather than chronically, sometimes for only hours at a time. Whereas dementia is almost always irreversible, and features a steady cognitive decline as the condition progresses, delirium is not a chronic impairment, and its acute manifestations can be effectively controlled.

Delirium is also unique for its severe disorganized thought. This usually leads to a period of inattention or distraction, making the individual unable to focus on tasks. While dementia also features a poor level of focus and concentration, the difference is that delirium’s lack of focus stems from rapidly processed thoughts, rather than the stifled ability to conduct thought.

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Delirium Vs Dementia: Learn The Differences

  • Senior Care
  • Delirium Vs. Dementia: Learn The
  • When you have taken on the role of a caregiver, it is important to personalize and adjust your care to best suit the health conditions and lifestyle preferences of your loved one. This makes it important to understand the difference between conditions that affects a persons cognitive abilities like dementia and delirium. It might be intuitive to place more importance on physical conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes, but cognitive changes can have just as large an impact on a persons wellbeing.

    This is largely because conditions that affect an individuals cognitive abilities can alter their ability to remember, think, or reason. While this is more common as we grow older, it is not a part of natural aging, and it is important to address these problems as soon as possible to secure a better quality of living for your loved one.

    To get you started, we have compiled a simple breakdown of the differences between delirium and dementia, what they do and how it manifests in different people.

    Onset Of The Symptoms

    Delirio y demencia

    Delirium is known as an acute confusional state. The condition occurs when someone experiences an abrupt change in their ability to remember things. On the other hand, dementia progresses slowly over a more extended time period. It is important to seek medical attention if your loved one is experiencing abrupt symptoms of delirium.

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    Difference : The Duration And Reversibility

    The difference in length and reversibility between the two conditions is very important. Most dementias are considered to be chronic conditions that are lifelong and for which there is currently no cure. Alzheimers disease, the most common form of dementia, is one good example.

    Conversely, delirium is not a chronic condition. Indeed, when someones confusion is due to delirium, the confusion itself will usually lessen and resolve completely in the days and weeks following diagnosis. Although there are exceptions, a persons mental state will typically return to the state it was before delirium. Delirium is reversible and thus short-lived, contrary to dementia.

    El Deliri Sovint Es Desenvolupa En Pacients Amb Demncia

    S’ha d’evitar confondre el deliri amb la demència en un pacient gran, un error clínic comú sobretot quan el deliri se superposa a la demència crònica.

    Cap examen de laboratori pot establir amb certesa la causa del deteriorament cognitiu una història precisa i un examen objectiu, a més del coneixement dels paràmetres vitals i funcionals, són essencials.

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    Possible Causes Of Delirium

    According to the American Psychiatric Association, up to 60% of older residents of residential care facilities are diagnosed with delirium, as well as up to 87% of people recovering from surgeries in intensive care. Common causes are medical conditions, reactions to medications, sleep disturbances, and environmental changes .

    Medical conditions having minimal effects on the cognitive functioning of younger adults, such as the onset of urinary tract infections, are frequently seen to contribute to delirium among older adults. Therefore, when a patient is experiencing a rapid change in cognitive function, a thorough physical evaluation is extremely important.

    Medications can also be the culprit. Medicine is processed differently in the bodies of older adults, which can lead to greater prevalence of side effects and interactions. Drug trials are not often conducted on older patients, so the publicized side effects of a medication may not cover the full range of effects they may have on older people.

    Often, the key to quickly resolving challenges with delirium lies in the advocacy of someone who knows and cares about the patient. Without a strong understanding of a patients baseline behaviors, medical staff in residential facilities may make the mistake of attributing symptoms of delirium to dementia, delaying treatment and potentially leading to longer-term decreased levels of cognitive and psychological functioning, which can have severe, or even fatal consequences.

    Tips For Caring For Someone With Brain Disorder

    How to know the difference between dementia and delirium
    • Join a community of caregivers to help cope with caregiver burnoutcaregivers
    • Personal care: bathing, eating, dressing, toileting, grooming
    • Household care: cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping, finances
    • Health care: medication management, physician’s appointments, physical therapy
    • Emotional care: companionship, meaningful activities, conversation
    • Supervision: oversight for safety at home and to prevent wandering
    • Make sure the person always carries ID
    • Dress your loved one in bright clothing
    • Use radio tracking devices
    • Address the condition that causes delirium through blood tests, X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs, etc
    • Minimize drugs that cause delirium
    • Medications
    • Medicines to treat challenging behaviour
    • Cognitive stimulation therapy
    • Reminiscence and life story work

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    How Do Doctors Diagnose Dementia

    There are two different types of tests that are used when trying to diagnose dementia:

    • Medical exams: may involve blood tests, brain scans, or other tests based on the specific symptoms that are being displayed.

    • Psychological examinations: will typically involve your doctor talking with you about your thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and can also include an assessment of your memory. The results from these two different types of tests will help your doctor decide what the best course of action is in your treatment.

    What Is Treatment And Support For Delirium

    Delirium is treated first by addressing the medical problem that have caused it. For example, if the person has low blood oxygen or low blood sugar levels these will be corrected quickly. If the person has an infection they may be given antibiotics. If they are in pain, constipated or not passing urine then these will be treated. Doctors will also review the persons medication and stop any non-essential drugs that may be linked to delirium. Staff will make sure the person is supported to eat and drink regularly.Delirium will usually improve if its cause is found and treated.A supportive and calm environment can also help someone recover from delirium. Nursing staff, and visiting family and friends, can all help by:

    Doctors wont normally give someone medication to treat delirium, because there is very little evidence that drugs help. Drugs should be considered only if the persons behaviour poses a risk of harm to themselves or others, or if hallucinations or delusions are causing the person severe distress. In either case a doctor may try a low dose of a sedative or an antipsychotic for a few days.

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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.

    Symptoms Of Alzheimers Disease

    Differences between dementia, delirium, and amnesia ...

    The most common symptoms of Alzheimers disease are associated with memory loss. However, the way that memories are stored and recalled is distinct in people with Alzheimers than other forms of dementia. Patients with this disease usually have strong recollections of deeply seated memories.

    However, they have trouble regurgitating information that they learned recently. Thats because Alzheimers changes the regions of the brain that are associated with learning.

    Some of the symptoms of Alzheimers disease include:

    • Trouble remembering new information
    • Confusion about time, places and events
    • Suspicions toward loved ones and caregivers
    • Difficulty speaking, walking or swallowing

    Alzheimers disease presents itself in different stages. Symptoms may vary, and the stages dont always correspond exactly with these, but understanding them may help you identify the condition in yourself or a loved one.

    The stages of Alzheimers disease include:

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    Delirium Or Dementia: Know The Difference

    BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – More than five million people in the US are living with dementia. It affects attention, memory, and judgment. However, in the hospital dementia is commonly misdiagnosed as delirium, a mistake that can delay treatment to slow the progression of the disease.

    Were on your side with ways you can distinguish between dementia and delirium and get the help your loved one needs.

    The main difference between delirium and dementia is delirium develops acutely and it tends to fluctuate. So the patient could be fine at one moment and very soon they can be fluctuating, said Dr. Barbar Khan, critical care physician at the Regenstrief Institute at Indiana University.

    Dementia is a chronic condition. Delirium is short lived and mainly affects attention, while dementia mainly affects memory. And the most important distinction between the two conditions is that delirium is reversible, while dementia is not.

    If by a few months after discharge if they feel that the things are not getting better and those symptoms are persistent, then it might be time to go over to a specialized memory clinic, said Dr. Khan.

    Dr. Kahn also reports that covid-19 has sent delirium rates skyrocketing. Up to 75 percent of covid-19 patients have been affected by delirium.

    Copyright 2021 WBRC

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    How Delirium And Dementia Are Related

    Delirium and dementia are tightly related, though distinct, and often the two terms are confused in common usage. In fact, dementia is often a root cause in the manifestation of delirium, along with other contributing causes like electrolyte disorders severe infections of the lungs, liver, heart, kidney or brain, prescription drug use and an unfamiliar environment.

    Symptoms common in both delirium and dementia include:

    • Difficulty solving complex problems
    • Lack of focus and coherent thought
    • Difficulty or complications when attempting to form new memories

    There are no clear diagnostic tests to verify the presence of delirium, so acknowledgment relies solely on clinical observations. Before a patient is diagnosed with dementia, delirium must be ruled out as the condition.

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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.

    Understanding The Difference Between Dementia Vs Delirium Symptoms

    Delirium vs Dementia: What is the difference?

    As your senior loved one ages, you may begin noticing subtle shifts in their health or behavior, especially when those changes result in some form of cognitive impairment. What happens, though, when the cognitive impairment or confusion appears quite suddenly and without warning? Does this mean your loved one has dementia? Not necessarily. This may be a case of what is known as delirium. While both deal with confusion and cognitive impairment, dementia and delirium are two different things. So, what are delirium symptoms, and how can you differentiate symptoms of delirium from dementia? And what is the difference between dementia, delirium and Alzheimers? Read on to find out!

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    What Is The Difference Between Delirium And Dementia

    Both delirium and dementia have similar symptoms, but the two medical conditions are not the same. Delirium usually comes on suddenly, and there are ways to prevent it from developing. The onset of dementia is slower, usually taking months or years to develop with minor symptoms sometimes being dismissed as normal forgetfulness or ignored. With this information, you should be able to tell the differences between delirium vs dementia and understand why awareness of delirium and its causes is important.

    Some memory lapses are a natural part of aging, but when it is combined with confusion, disorientation, difficulty concentrating, or speech problems, then there is a reason for concern. Since these symptoms can indicate more than one medical condition, an appointment with a doctor should be made to diagnose the condition.

    The Effects Of Alzheimers On The Brain

    Damage to the brain begins years before symptoms appear. Abnormal protein deposits form plaques and tangles in the brain of someone with Alzheimers disease. Connections between cells are lost, and they begin to die. In advanced cases, the brain shows significant shrinkage.

    Its impossible to diagnose Alzheimers with complete accuracy while a person is alive. The diagnosis can only be confirmed when the brain is examined under a microscope during an autopsy. However, specialists are able to make the correct diagnosis up to

    • behavioral changes
    • difficulty speaking, swallowing, or walking in advanced stages of the disease

    Some types of dementia will share some of these symptoms, but they include or exclude other symptoms that can help make a differential diagnosis. Lewy body dementia , for example, has many of the same later symptoms as Alzheimers. However, people with LBD but are more likely to experience initial symptoms such as visual hallucinations, difficulties with balance, and sleep disturbances.

    People with dementia due to Parkinsons or Huntingtons disease are more likely to experience involuntary movement in the early stages of the disease.

    Treatment for dementia will depend on the exact cause and type of dementia, but many treatments for dementia and Alzheimers will overlap.

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    Difference : The Causes And Precipitating Factors

    Since dementia progresses slowly whereas delirium arises suddenly, it makes sense that their causes are different. The specific causes of dementia are yet to be fully identified. But for delirium, medical research has identified the following risk factors: visual and hearing impairment, a high burden of medical conditions, dehydration and dementia. Yes, having dementia increases the risk of developing a delirium episode on top of it.

    With or without dementia, delirium occurs only when there are precipitating factors. These include any events that cause a significant level of strain: infections, falls, surgery, hospitalization, or medication errors for example. These specific factors can precipitate delirium, but not dementia because mechanisms that cause dementia unfold over many years.

    Key Differences Between Dementia And Delirium

    Ontario Healthcare

    One of the key differences between the two is the speed at which they manifest. Delirium is likely to have a sudden onset and can be treated and stopped with efficient treatment. On the other hand, dementia is a long-term condition where symptoms will develop over years and is unlikely to completely go away even with continuous treatment.

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    Attention Span And Memory

    Dementia: A person’s level of alertness is typically not affected until the late stages of Alzheimer’s, whereas memory is significantly affected throughout the disease.

    Delirium: In delirium, the opposite is true. Memory functioning is usually less affected in delirium but the ability to focus and maintain attention to something or someone is very poor.

    How To Tell The Difference Between Delirium And Dementia

    Delirium is characterized in a person’s ability to think and understand and typically follows an event. It involves confusion, memory loss, and changes in vision or hearing. As opposed to dementia which typically happens gradually, delirium is often caused by a medical condition such as a urinary tract infection, constipation, sleep deprivation, overactive thyroid, drug reactions or toxicity, alcohol withdrawal, etc. Delirium can typically be treated and is reversible, whereas most dementia types are not reversible or their symptoms worsen with time.

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