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Dementia and Delirium Differences

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Serious Senior Woman With Adult Daughter At Home

Dementia and delirium are both very common illnesses amongst elderly people.  These conditions share a number of symptoms and it is easy to confuse the two.  Both conditions cause a loss of memory, difficulties communicating and poor judgment.

However, the treatments and prognosis for these conditions vary greatly.  The way you should interact with a family member with delirium or dementia is also different, so it is important to understand which condition they have and how it affects them.  This article will review the key dementia and delirium differences so you can understand what your elderly relative may be going through.

The Onset Of Dementia and Delirium Differs

The onset of dementia is very slowly.  It can take months or years to notice a decline in someone with dementia.  In the early stages of dementia, you might be fooled into thinking someone is simply being forgetful.  As time progresses, their condition becomes serious and eventually the condition is life-threatening.

The onset of delirium is much faster.  Seniors can be affected by this disease literally overnight.  It can be very distressing for relatives because one day their loved one is fine and the next they have delirium.

The Cause Of Dementia and Delirium Differs

Dementia can be caused by a variety of neurodegenerative conditions and illnesses including Lewy body dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and vascular dementia.  Many forms of dementia are caused by certain proteins building up in the brain and impairing the ability of the brain to function correctly.

Delirium can be caused by certain kinds of illnesses and lifestyle factors including infections, pneumonia, excessive drug use, and alcohol withdrawal.  It is not necessarily a brain problem that causes delirium, but it affects a person’s ability to think.

The Duration Of Dementia and Delirium

Most forms of dementia are chronic diseases that are incurable.  However, there are a number of treatments available which can slow its progression.  A small number of dementia-causing conditions like thyroid dysfunction can be cured with medication.

Delirium is a temporary condition that can be treated.  Most cases of delirium last days or weeks, but some rare cases last for months.

Dementia and Delirium Symptoms

While the two conditions share symptoms, there are small differences in how they are presented.

  • Impaired communication
    A person with early-stage dementia will often forget certain words or the names of people. Late-stage dementia can often cause a person to stop communicating with other people.  People with delirium often struggle to speak coherently.  It is a sudden change that makes it difficult for them to communicate with others.
  • Activity levels
    Only the later stages of dementia affect a person’s activity levels. A person with delirium often has their activity levels change immediately — they usually become hyperactive or lethargic.
  • Attention span and cognitive skills
    A person with dementia usually retains a good attention span and most of their cognitive skills in the early stages of the disease. By the later stages of the disease, they struggle to maintain attention and their cognition suffers considerably.  People with delirium have no problem remembering things, but they struggle to maintain focus.

Treatment of Dementia and Delirium

Drugs are available to treat some common forms of dementia including Alzheimer’s disease.  These drugs can slow the progression of the disease, helping a person to maintain their quality of life for as long as possible.

Delirium is treated by tackling the root cause of the illness.  That usually means the patient is given antibiotics, dietary supplements or another type of medication.

How Non-Medical Home Care Can Help

If you or a loved one is suffering from one of these conditions, having help around the home is essential.  Home care involves a trained professional coming into a client’s home and helping them with a variety of tasks including:

Preparing nutritious meals

A person with delirium or dementia may struggle to prepare meals.  Home care staff can deliver pre-made meals or prepare meals in the client’s kitchen.  Having a nutritious and balanced diet helps the client maintain their health and enjoy their food.

Help with personal hygiene

Home care staff can help a client perform various personal hygiene tasks including bathing, shaving, and grooming.  They can also help a client get out of bed and get dressed.

Domestic duties

Having delirium or dementia can make performing domestic duties very difficult or dangerous.  Home care staff can make the home clean, hygienic and safe.  Some of the tasks they perform include vacuuming and mopping the floors, dusting, cleaning and organizing the kitchen, grocery shopping, and cleaning bathrooms.

Providing transportation to appointments

Caregivers can help the client make it to doctor’s appointments and social engagements by providing assisted transportation service.

Assistance with medications and rehabilitation

Dementia and delirium sufferers may have to take medications as a part of their treatment.  In many cases, their illness makes it difficult to remember when to take their pills.  Home care staff can obtain the medication from the pharmacy and help the client remember to take it appropriately.  Caregivers can also help the client perform physical or mental rehabilitation techniques.

If you have any questions about dementia and delirium differences or the services that All Heart Home Care provides contact us at 619-736-4677.  We offer in-home consultations and would love to discuss the many home care services we provide!

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