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The Differences Between Dementia and Delirium

January 9th, 2017

adult-1852908_1920Dementia and delirium are two medical conditions common amongst the aging and are often confused for each other. While both affect an individual’s activity level, mood, attention, and perception, the underlying cause is vastly different. The home health care experts at BrightStar would like to share some information about dementia and delirium.

Dementia is a general term for a mental decline severe enough to affect daily life. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. Dementia mainly affects the memory and is caused by changes in the brain. The onset of dementia is typically slower, becoming progressively worse over months or years, and irreversible. Symptoms of dementia include losing various items and finding it hard to retrace steps, poor management of a budget, lower-quality decision making skills and judgement, losing track of the date or season, and difficulty maintaining an in-depth conversation. Individuals living with dementia are highly susceptible to delirium.

Delirium is sometimes called an acute confusional state, is most typically caused by acute illness, and is often reversible. Delirium mainly affects attention. Causes of delirium include a recent medical illness, a brain event such as a stroke, an adverse reaction to a medication or mix of medications, or withdrawal from a medication, alcohol, or nicotine. Many factors increase the susceptibility for delirium such as a prior stroke or brain injury, Alzheimer’s disease, malnutrition, or dehydration. It is possible to avoid delirium by avoiding illness and alcohol, being cautious about medication, and eliminating or drastically reducing the use of certain medications, such as antihistamines, muscle relaxants, anticholinergics, anti-nausea medications, and benzodiazepine type sedatives.

Misdiagnosing one for the other is a common clinical error because there is no laboratory test that can definitively establish the cause of cognitive impairment. It is crucial to have a thorough history, recent physical examination, and a knowledge of the patient’s baseline cognitive function in order to make a correct diagnosis. In order to get the necessary help for a patient, it is imperative to know them well enough to know what kind of memory and attention lapses are common and which have developed more recently. Whether a loved one is suffering from dementia or delirium, BrightStar understands the difficulties associated with their care and offers a wide range of home health care options that will fit your family’s unique needs. Call BrightStar Care at 1-866-618-7827 for a complimentary in-home assessment.