Knowing the difference between delirium and dementia

Health Watch

ORLANDO, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — More than five million people in the U.S. are living with dementia. It affects attention, memory, and judgement. However, in the hospital dementia is commonly misdiagnosed as delirium. A mistake that can delay treatment to slow the progression of the disease. There are ways you can distinguish between dementia and delirium and get the help your loved one needs.

More than seven million hospitalized patients in the U.S. will experience some form of delirium every year. Forty-five percent of those patients will have persistent delirium at discharge and 26 percent will experience delirium three months after being in the hospital. When delirium lasts that long, could it be something else?

Barbar Kahn, MD, Critical Care Physician, Regenstrief Institute at Indiana University says, “It is sometimes very difficult to differentiate between delirium and dementia because sometimes they are superimposed on each other.”

Since cognition impairment is present in both conditions, how can you spot the difference?

“The main difference between delirium and dementia is delirium develops acutely and it tends to fluctuate. So the patient could be fine at one moment and very soon they can be fluctuating,” continued Dr. Kahn.

Dementia is a chronic condition. Delirium is short lived and mainly affects attention, while dementia mainly affects memory. And the most important distinction between the two conditions is that delirium is reversible, while dementia is not.

“If by a few months after discharge if they feel that the things are not getting better and those symptoms are persistent, then it might be time to go over to a specialized memory clinic,” Dr. Kahn explained.

To get a proper diagnosis and the help your loved one needs.

Doctor Kahn also reports that COVID-19 has sent delirium rates skyrocketing. Up to 75 percent of COVID-19 patients have been affected by delirium.

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