At Sunflower Home Health, we realize the importance of providing education to spot problems in hopes of increasing the probability of early detection.  For all health problems, early detection is key.  Furthermore, being able to spot small differences can save time, which in turn could provide you and your family more time with the ones you love.  In an effort to educate the communities in which we provide care, we have decided to create a blog that will cover a wide range of topics. In this blog post, we are discussing the differences between dementia and delirium.  Delirium and dementia are two separate mental states that can be characterized by impaired memory and judgement, confusion, disorientation, as well as paranoia and hallucinations.  Due to these similarities, clinicians can have difficulty distinguishing between the two.  However, there are some distinct differences that can assist clinicians in making an accurate diagnosis.

What is Dementia

Dementia is a chronic or persistent disorder of the mental processes caused by brain disease or injury and marked by memory disorders, personality changes, and impaired reasoning.  It’s not a specific disease, rather an overall term that is used to describe a group of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or thinking skills to reduce a person’s ability to perform daily activities.  The most common types of dementia are Alzheimer’s disease, which makes up 60 to 80 percent of cases, and vascular dementia, which occurs after a stroke.  Many people often believe that dementia is a normal part of aging, this is incorrect.  Signs and symptoms of dementia include memory problems (particularly remembering recent events), confusion, reduced concentration, personality or behavioral changes, apathy and withdrawal or depression, inability to perform everyday tasks.

Causes of Dementia

Dementia is caused by damage to brain cells, which interferes with the ability of brain cells to communicate with one another.  This results in affected thinking, behavior and feelings.  The human brain is made up of different regions, each one responsible for different functions (movement, judgement, and memory).  Damaged cells in a particular region can result in the inability to carry out the functions that the affected region is responsible for.

Dementia Diagnosis

There is not a single test that can determine if someone has dementia, instead it’s diagnosed based on a careful examination of medical history, physical examinations, lab tests, and the characteristic changes in thinking, day-to-day function and behavior associated with each type.  Through this process, doctors can diagnose dementia with a very high level of certainty.  However, narrowing down the exact type of dementia can be much more difficult.  In many cases, a doctor will provide a dementia diagnosis, but not specify the type of dementia.  When this occurs, it may be necessary to see a specialist such as a neurologist or a gero-psychologist.

Dementia Treatment and Care

The treatment of dementia differentiates, depending on the cause.  For most progressive dementias, including Alzheimer’s, there is no cure or treatment.  However, there are drug treatments that can temporarily improve symptoms.  There are also some non-drug (hyperlink non drug to therapies that can alleviate symptoms.

Dementia Risk and Prevention

Some risks factors cannot be changed, including age and genetics.  Physical exercise can help lower the risk of some types of dementia.  Diet can also lower your risk.  Evidence suggests that heart-healthy eating patterns may protect the brain. We suggest relatively little red meat, emphasizing whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fish and shellfish, nuts, olive oil and other healthy fats.

What is Delirium

Delirium is a treatable condition that starts suddenly in someone who is unwell.  It is common and serious, causing a person to become easily distracted and more confused that normal.  This condition can be very hard on the person and their family.  Unlike dementia, which is a slow onset, symptoms of delirium can appear within a few hours or days and is much more common in older people.  These symptoms may come and go.  Signs and Symptoms include confusion, changes in alertness, lack of concentration, easily distracted, disorientation, rambling speech, behavioral changes, disturbed patterns of sleeping and waking, hallucinations, and abnormal or paranoid beliefs.  If someone develops these symptoms, they should see a doctor as soon as possible.  They should also be accompanied by someone who knows them and can tell the doctor that this is not normal for them.

Causes of Delirium

It is known that 20 percent of older people in the hospital have delirium.  It also develops in many people in care homes.  The exact cause is not always clear, as it is usually the brain’s reaction to another medical problem.  Examples of these problems could be an infection, severe illness, surgery, pain, dehydration, constipation, port nutrition or change in medication.  In reality, anyone can get delirium, but the following factors put people at a higher risk:

  • Having dementia
  • Being over 65
  • Being frail or having multiple medical conditions
  • Poor hearing or vision
  • Being on multiple medications

Delirium Diagnosis

To diagnose delirium, doctors will investigate a patient’s clinical history to determine how and when the changes developed, their underlying health and their current mental state.  It is imperative that the patient has someone who knows them well that can describe how they have changed to doctor and how quickly this has happened.  Unfortunately, delirium is often missed.  Hopefully, we can change this through education and awareness.

Delirium Treatment and Care

Treatment of delirium is very much in line with the treatment of dementia.  It is important to find the cause of the delirium, infection or antibiotics.  Doctors have been known to review a patient’s medications and stop any drugs linked to delirium. They will also ensure the patient is pain free, properly hydrated, well nourished and that their blood has enough oxygen.  Once the underlying cause is found and treated, delirium will normally improve.  Family and friends will also play an important role.  You can help by talking calmly in short/clear sentences, reminding them of where they are and providing reassurance.  You can also bring personal objects, such as photographs, from home.  Drugs should only be considered if the patient poses a risk to themselves or others, or if there are hallucinations.

Delirium Prevention

With proper care, delirium can be prevented in many cases.  Soon after a person comes into a hospital or long term care facility, staff should check if they are at risk of delirium.  If so, non-drug approaches should be put in place to prevent delirium.  These approaches are mentioned previously in the treatment and support section above.

If you are someone you know has delirium or dementia, or you think they may have delirium or dementia, and you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to navigate to the contact us form and reach out or give us a call at your local office.  Those numbers are listed below:

Cleveland – (662) 756-4676

Indianola – (662) 887-1518

Grenada – (662) 294-0726

Greenwood – (662) 455-3535

Charleston – (662) 647-0653

Clarksdale – (662) 624-4141

At Sunflower Home Health, we truly believe that education and awareness are the keys to making the Mississippi Delta a healthy and safe place to live.  We are committed to helping each and every one of you, and are always here to assist.

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