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Delirium vs Dementia: What You Need to Know

Delirium vs Dementia

With older age comes an increased risk of health problems. Among those include the conditions of delirium and dementia. These conditions have some similar symptoms. This can sometimes make it hard to distinguish between the two.

Read on to better understand the differences between delirium vs. dementia.


Delirium is a state of mental confusion which is caused by stress to the body or mind. Sometimes referred to as “an acute confusional state,” delirium develops quickly. It may even develop in mere hours.

A distinguishing symptom of delirium is attention difficulties. People with delirium often have a variety of other cognitive problems. These might include language issues, hallucinations, memory struggles, and disorientation. These symptoms will typically fluctuate. It may sometimes seem as the sufferer is better but then, the symptoms may return worse than before.

Delirium can be triggered by a medical illness or by the stress of being hospitalized. If the hospital stay included anesthesia or surgery, delirium is more likely. It can also happen due to an infection, dehydration, liver failure, kidney failure. Delirium can also be the result of an infection, brain tumor, head trauma. It might also happen because of an unfamiliar environment or a metabolic problem.

Delirium is more common than people realize. About a third of seniors experience the condition at some point during their stay in a hospital. The post-operative experience can cause confusion for senior patients. This can lead to a state of delirium.

Delirium is a sign that something damaging is happening to the body. This is why it’s important that medical help is sought immediately. Delirium is usually reversible if the causes are treated.

Unfortunately, delirium is often easily overlooked in patients with dementia. This is because so many of the symptoms are the same even though the two illnesses are different.

Delirium Treatment

Treatment for delirium is managed both with and without medicine. It’s important to create a familiar environment for delirium patients. Include familiar objects which will help ease the confusion. Encourage family and friends to visit to remind the patient of who they are and where they are.

Pharmacologic treatment of delirium could include neuroleptic medications to relive hallucinations or delusions. They also serve to calm an agitated patient. A patient might also take haloperidol or risperidone or a benzodiazepine if the delirium is due to alcohol withdrawal.


Dementia is a progressive memory decline in an otherwise alert and healthy person. The patient may slowly begin to struggle with abstract thinking. They might also have a hard time with judgment, attention or orientation. Dementia almost never occurs in patients under 50 years of age.

There are many risk factors and possible causes of dementia. Some of the risk factors include Down’s Syndrome, a head injury, age, genetics, or a lack of education. Females are also more likely to suffer from dementia than males.
Dementia is the result of a degree of brain damage. The causes might include stroke, Pick’s disease or Downs Syndrome. Other causes include AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s Disease and Huntington’s disease.

Diagnosing dementia is essential to proper treatment. The diagnosis of dementia is based on a short-term and/or long-term memory loss. It’s also diagnosed based on a combination of language problems or organizational problems.

Patients exhibiting an inability to recognize familiar objects might have dementia. Dementia also inhibits a person’s personality so they don’t seem like themselves.

An assessment for dementia might include a focused physical. If dementia is suspected, a doctor might order extensive lab work or a mental state exam. The patient’s medical history will be taken into account. If a brain injury has taken place, a CT or MRI scan might be required.

Dementia Treatment

Preventative measures against dementia include continued education efforts and memory and attention exercises.

Treatment for dementia patients includes medical and environment efforts. Non-medical interventions include the help of supportive caregivers. It’s crucial that dementia patients get adequate hydration and plenty of sleep. Enjoyable social activities and proper stimulation can also be beneficial. Dementia patients are often encouraged to adhere to a strict schedule.

Medical treatments might include acetylcholinesterase inhibitors such as Tacrine, Donepezil hydrochloride, rivastigmine tartrate and galantamine hydrochloride. Behavioral medication is sometimes prescribed. These might include mood stabilizers, antidepressants and/or antipsychotics.

Delirium vs Dementia- The Differences

Delirium and dementia are the most common causes of cognitive impairment. Cognitive ability is affected by both disorders, it can be hard to distinguish one from the other. Delirium affects a patient’s ability to maintain attention to details or their surroundings.

Delirium is often caused by drug toxicity or illness. Delirium is usually reversible with proper treatment. Delirium often develops in patients who already have dementia. This is part of the reason it can be hard to diagnose. Often symptoms are mistaken as part of the dementia process.

The onset of delirium is usually sudden with a definite beginning point. With dementia, however, it’s a slow and gradual decline in behavior and ability. Delirium is reversible whereas dementia is slowly progressive.

Delirium can last anywhere from days to weeks, but there is usually a point of things turning around. With dementia, the condition is a permanent one.

The use of language with delirium is slow and often incoherent or inappropriate. With dementia, patients struggle more with finding the right words.

Memory loss with delirium varies but with dementia, memory is mostly lost, especially when it comes to recent events.

Supportive Care Matters

When it comes to delirium vs. dementia, one thing is certain: proper, loving care is essential. A supportive caregiver can make all the difference in the lives of patients. Delirium and dementia patients depend upon dedicated caregivers.

A person’s surroundings can have a huge impact on their physical and mental well-being. This is just as true for sufferers of delirium or dementia. Their supportive environments can positively influence their treatment outcomes.

If you’re looking for the right care home for a loved one with a challenging health condition, we invite you to check out our beautiful facilities.