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home | Dementia | What is the Difference Between Delir . . .

What is the Difference Between Delirium and Dementia?

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Confusion, memory loss, disorientation...dementia causes these symptoms, and so does delirium. Although they may look the same at any one moment, they are not the same, and one of them can be the sign of an emergency that needs to be attended to immediately.

|image2|Although it can sometimes come on fairly quickly as a result of a stroke or other brain injury, dementia symptoms are usually progressive in nature. Most dementias begin with subtle symptoms which grow more obvious with the passage of time.

Delirium, on the other hand, happens quickly. There is usually a significant change in a delirious person, often in a matter of hours. Sudden onset of agitation, hallucinations, and rapid changes in a person's level of consciousness can indicate delirium. People with delirium need immediate medical attention.

Angelina Whitney has experienced both dementia and delirium. Diagnosed with dementia of the Alzheimer's type several years ago, Angie has slowly lost quite a few of her previous abilities. She now lives in an assisted living facility, where she is reminded to take her medications, receives daily help with her hygiene, and is reminded to come to meals. She often becomes lost in the building and must be directed back to her room. On the whole, though, Angie remains pleasantly confused and has never been a cause for concern.

Several weeks ago Angie suddenly became visibly more anxious. Her room was "invaded" by insects that no one else could see. Previously very easy to get along with, Angie became combative with the aids who tried to help her bathe and dress. When she was hard to wake in the morning and her speech was incoherent the facility nurse recommended that she go to the emergency room immediately. Angie was found to be delirious as a result of a severe urinary tract infection.

After 48 hours on antibiotic therapy, Angie slowly returned to her old, moderately confused but chipper self.

Delirium can result from infection, drug interactions or sensitivity,  fluid imbalances, dehydration, kidney failure, liver failure, alcohol abuse, brain tumors or other head trauma, and any number of other physical problems. Unlike dementia, once the physical problem is treated the delirium usually passes.

Because delirium is usually a sign that something important and potentially very damaging is occurring, it is very important to seek medical help immediately if you see signs of delirium. Unlike dementia, which is not often curable, delirium is usually reversible if the underlying cause is treated.


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