Delirium vs Dementia – Are they the same?
To make a distinction between delirium vs dementia there are several factors to take into consideration. One of the first steps in diagnosing dementia is to rule out delirium. A few of the symptoms to look for in delirium are listed below.
• How fast did the person start to exhibit symptoms
• Any history of recent head trauma
• Signs of malnutrition
• Possible drug use or reaction to prescription drugs
• Did the individual recently stop smoking or drinking or even stop using prescription drugs
• Recent illnesses such as infection or flu
Changes in memory and personality that progress slowly over a period of months or even years usually is a sign of dementia. Changes that occur over a period of days or weeks can indicate delirium. In cases of head injuries and other traumatic events, signs of delirium can be almost immediate at times.
Dementia symptoms will typically progress evenly over a long period of time, while in many cases of delirium a person can have varied levels of cognitive function. Ranging from hyper-alertness to a sleepy, lethargic appearance. One very telling sign in discerning delirium vs dementia is that in most cases of delirium an individual is totally unable to stay focused on one task or thought for any length of time.
Delirium vs Dementia Reference Chart
|Beginning||Sudden, one can usually pinpoint when it started||Slow and gradual, with an uncertain starting point|
|How long it lasts||Days to weeks but can last longer||Almost always irreversible|
|Cause||Typically caused by another condition (sickness, drugs or allergic reaction to prescription drugs, dehydration...etc.)||Usually a chronic brain disorder ( Alzheimer disease, Lewy body dementia, vascular dementia)|
|Progression||Reversible in most cases||Advances gradually|
|Awareness||Variably impaired||Unimpaired until dementia has become severe|
|Reaction at night||Most often worse||Usually worse|
|Attention span||Greatly impaired||Normal until dementia reaches upper stages|
|Orientation to time and place||Varies||Fluctuates according to stage of dementia|
|Ability to remember||Varies||Lost, especially for recent events in latter stages|
|Handling of language||Sometimes slurred, often incoherent, and at times inappropriate||Will struggle to find the right word at times|
|Need for medical assistance||Immediate||Required but less urgent unless in final stage|
Causes – Delirium vs Dementia
There are many causes for dementia or delirium to try to list them all would be futile. I have tried to list some of the more prevalent causes for each condition in the module below.
Here’s a video from the University of Rochester on how to recognized delirium.