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Understanding the Difference Between Delirium & Dementia

The ability to differentiate dementia from delirium can be useful in the treatment and prevention of serious illness. Both conditions share a variety of symptoms, but they differ in cause and expression. In many cases, there may be a relationship between the two conditions. Comprehension of how they are similar and where they are different can help you determine what steps should be taken in a your individual case.

Memory lapses are a common and natural part of aging, but a slip of the mind is very different from more serious symptoms like confusion, speech impairment, disorientation, or the difficulty with concentration. These symptoms are more acute and could point to a combination of medical conditions, increasing the importance of telling your doctor if you or a loved one are experiencing any of them.

Delirium

Delirium is most commonly expressed as an abnormal state of confusion, often brought on by mental or physical stress. Delirium onset is most often rather sudden, and often you can prevent “acute confusion states”. There is a wide variety of symptoms associated with delirium, and many of them are easily misdiagnosed as the symptoms of dementia. Some of these include:

Delirium is often confused with dementia and incorrectly diagnosed. Determining the origin of the symptoms is essential to identify differences between the two.
  • Memory lapses
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Disorientation
  • Difficulty with speech
  • Trouble focusing or paying attention

Delirium affects more than memory, impairing the ability to concentrate and form thoughts. Delirium can be prevented, but is often confused with dementia and incorrectly diagnosed. Determining the origin of the symptoms is essential to identify differences between the two. Common causes of delirium include:

  • Help seniors with dementia or deliriumMedication
  • Dehydration
  • Stress
  • Pain
  • Metabolic conditions
  • Infections
  • Injuries
  • Malnutrition

Medications can cause or exacerbate delirium, emphasizing the importance of discussing any pain medication, antihistamines, sleep medications, anti-anxiety or anti-depression drugs, asthma medication, or Parkinson’s medications that you may be taking with your doctor.

Delirium can be a symptom of dementia. In such instance, you may not be able to prevent or treat the symptoms of delirium due to a more serious health issue like stroke, Parkinson’s disease, or the aging process.

Dementia

Dementia is generally defined as a progressive decrease in mental ability that is sever enough to affect daily function. Among the more common types of dementia are:

Finding the correct cause of dementia is crucial – each individual type of dementia is expressed by a unique group of symptoms.
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Vascular Dementia
  • Huntington’s Disease
  • Dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB)
  • Mixed Dementia

Each individual type of dementia is expressed by a unique group of symptoms that affect the brain in different ways. Finding the correct cause of dementia is crucial – discuss your symptom onset and ways to diagnose and treat your specific condition with your doctors and frequently.

Dementia and delirium differ most in that dementia presents a gradual onset of symptoms, unlike the rapid onset associated with delirium. Understanding this difference allows the diagnosis of dementia to be slightly more focused. Diagnostic and cognitive tests are useful in the determination of dementia and the type affecting you. MRI and CT scans, blood tests, and PET scans can be helpful. You should also undergo the MMSE – the mini-mental state examination, the most popular cognitive test to determine the progression of impairment. The test assesses symptoms like:

Dementia and delirium differ most in that dementia presents a gradual onset of symptoms, unlike the rapid onset associated with delirium.
  • Long-term and short-term memory
  • Speech and language abilities
  • Attention span
  • Ability to concentrate
  • Ability to follow instructions
  • Planning skills

Most of the time, delirium resolves when the patient recovers from the stressor or source of the delirium. Dementia treatment will be tailored to the form of the dementia, and will usually take longer to treat and manage. Cognitive medication and therapies are effective tools in the management of dementia symptoms.

The following video further explains the differences between delirium and dementia:

When you understand the difference between delirium and dementia, you may be able to prevent, diagnose, and treat mental health conditions before they are serious or debilitating. Discuss your feelings with doctors and caregivers frequently so that they can help you maintain a happier, healthier brain.