The outward signs of delirium and dementia can look similar, which is why a medical diagnosis is important. In both cases, a person may appear confused, forgetful, anxious, or irrational. However, delirium has a sudden, rather than gradual onset. Read more about delirium, what causes it, and how you can help your loved ones fully recover to their normal state of well-being.
What is Delirium?
Delirium is a medical diagnosis used to describe sudden changes in behavior, memory, or thinking. It is not a new condition, and the term comes from the Greek meaning “off the track”. It is temporary, treatable, reversible, and preventable and is common among older adults. In fact, persons with dementia or Alzheimer’s have a higher chance of having a delirious episode. Many times a family member will say “Mom’s dementia got so much worse during her hospital stay”. What they are describing is delirium—a sudden and noticeable difference in behavior. Dementia and Alzheimer’s are slow, progressive diseases that do not suddenly accelerate. As of now, those diseases do not have a cure. Delirium can be reversed.
The best way to clear delirium is to identify and address the underlying cause. The usual culprits are certain medications, urinary tract infections (UTIs), or dehydration. All of these can be treated fairly easily by changing or discontinuing medications, administering antibiotics, or increasing fluid intake. The best person to diagnose delirium is a member of a medical team. A physician, nurse, or other professional who can identify the underlying causes. But, the best person to recognize delirium is a friend or family member who sees the changes in behavior or thinking. They are the ones who can alert the medical team to these changes because they may not know what “normal” is for their patient.
If delirium is a new term to you, it should not be mistaken for dementia, depression, anxiety, or other contributors to changes in behavior or thinking. Knowing more about delirium is important to making sure your loved one gets the appropriate care so they can be back on track and enjoying life in its familiar settings and activities.
Can a person have dementia and delirium?
Absolutely. Delirium is more common among persons with dementia. Because of this, families sometimes assume a person’s dementia has suddenly become worse during a hospitalization or life-changing circumstance when in fact, they could be suffering from delirium. While treatments for delirium will not reverse the slow progress of dementia, they can help reduce the confusion caused by delirium so activities of daily living are not dramatically changed.
Delirium Care & Transition
Once the cause of the delirium is identified, it can be usually treated quickly and effectively, either by changing medications that are contributing to the confusion or adding medicines to treat underlying causes such as an UTI. Therapies to reduce anxiety and confusion like aromatherapy, music therapy, or healing touch can also be effective. Time and a return to familiar surroundings also play a big part in reducing delirium.
Speak to a doctor about your concerns and your observations. Ask anyone who knows the person well and has also commented on changes in their thinking or behavior. Write down your observations with particular reference to the onset of the confusion and share this with the doctor.
Walker Methodist's Delirium Transitional Care
The Health Center at Walker Methodist offers Transitional Memory Care. This type of memory care is available for temporary changes in mental status that may or may not be long term for an individual. This unique program helps to continually ease the burdens of dementia and allows us to help individuals live fully each and every day. This care specialty is designed to bring happiness and life to Residents who may feel lost, as well as give comfort to the families of our Residents. I'll leave you with this heartfelt quote from one of our Resident's loved ones...
Martha states, "My mother was a patient in the Alzheimer rehab at Walker Methodist Health Center. She passed away shortly after being discharged in the Fall 2012. I often think of your wonderful staff; especially your O.T. & P. T. Without their hard work, she would have never returned home, and although we only had her home for a few months, it would not have been possible had she gone anywhere else. I can say this with unbiased sincerity because she was initially sent to a rehab center that was quite beautiful, but not appropriate for her level of care. I toured your facility before she was discharged, and I knew it would be perfect. I honestly never worried about her when I was not there. You are true pioneers in rehabilitating patients with memory issues, and I will never forget the wonderful therapists who worked with her. If anybody reads this that is looking for memory care, I highly encourage you to tour Walker Methodist, and don't be swayed by another facility because it may be more aesthetically pleasing. It is the least important factor to consider when deciding where your loved ones will go after discharge from the hospital."