Delirium or Dementia: Know the difference

Updated: Jan. 30, 2021 at 9:25 PM CST
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - More than five million people in the US are living with dementia. It affects attention, memory, and judgment. However, in the hospital dementia is commonly misdiagnosed as delirium, a mistake that can delay treatment to slow the progression of the disease.

We’re on your side with ways you can distinguish between dementia and delirium and get the help your loved one needs.

“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,” said Dr. Barbar Khan, critical care physician at the Regenstrief Institute at Indiana University.

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,” said Dr. Khan.

Dr. 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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