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Delirium and dementia are two very similar and very frightening disorders; and delirium can easily be confused with dementia.  For those of you who have the diagnosis of dementia, you have my forever respect and prayers for the struggles of your journey.  Our journey’s battle was with delirium.

My mother’s first bout with delirium began with symptoms of confusion, restlessness, and she angered easily.  We were all so focused on her heart issues we just thought the stress was getting to her, so when the doctor found a serious urinary tract infection and diagnosed her with delirium it took weeks for the symptoms to subside.  She had many more occurrences with delirium through the years, but we learned to look for the early signs and never saw it as severe as the first time.  We were lucky in hospital settings that the staff knew the difference and knew she did not have dementia.  However, we were not as lucky with the care facility and even some family who for some reason it was just easier to accept dementia.

When we first placed mom in the care facility we thought it would be a few weeks, maybe a month.  Within the first five days she was given two psychological tests; looking for dementia.  I happened to walk in on the second test where the social worker had actually woke mom up from her nap to begin the test.  I learned that antipsychotic medications are frequently prescribed when a facility can claim dementia, making the patient easier to manage.  I realize that nursing home care has improved dramatically through the years, and most states have put strict guidelines in place, but I had no doubt that this is what was planned by this facility.  I stepped in and asserted my legal advocate rights and they backed down.  But this was not the last issue I would have trying to convince them of the importance of watching for infections and getting the correct medications in place before the delirium could set in.

So what is the difference?


Delirium refers to multiple symptoms rather than being a disease in itself.  When a person suffers from delirium, he is said to be in an acute state of confusion. The onset of delirium is due to many reasons such as infections, dehydration, and medication side effects, to name a few.  The person becomes hyperactive, can hallucinate and becomes difficult to calm down.  However, there are cases of delirium where the person can be drowsy, lethargic, and unable to follow instructions.  If a person has delirium symptoms in hospital settings where he is getting medication and care, it is necessary to diagnose the underlying causes or can become fatal.  If diagnosed properly, symptoms of delirium are usually temporary.


Dementia refers to loss or impairment in cognitive abilities, particularly of memory and the ability of a person to perform a task in correct motor sequence. Patient also experiences difficulty in speech and understanding what others are saying.  His sentences become incoherent and he cannot speak in a right manner.  Dementia is also a cluster of symptoms and can have many underlying reasons.  Sadly, the most common cause of onset dementia is Alzheimer’s disease.

Because they chose me, I faced some true battles in watching the care given to my parents.  I found the most important thing I needed to do was to educate myself so I could step in when it was time, back away when it was necessary, and be able to know the difference. 


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