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  • Writer's pictureKaren McPhail, RN, MSN

Dementia versus delirium!

In the past I have posted about the differences between dementia and delirium, however based on having two new clients recently misdiagnosed and managed incorrectly, I have felt the need to post some information again! It saddens me that some healthcare professionals, especially those working with the elderly do not understand and cannot differentiate between the two! People are sadly prone to just immediately assume a dementia diagnosis due to age. So many times when seeing clients in the ER the nurse will ask me in a leading way..."So, she has dementia?" Just because someone is older does not mean that they have dementia... That being said, become familiar with the differences between the two so that you can understand and be an advocate for your loved one if needed!

Dementia is something that happens generally over time, with a continuing progressive cognitive decline. On the other hand, Delirium is something that has an immediate or rapid onset of cognitive changes. Usually it is sparked by a traumatic or stressful event or circumstance, such as a hospitalization. The symptoms can come and go and are individual for each person. The most prominent symptom seen is inattention or a of lack the ability to focus. Simple processing, thoughts, and tasks become impossible. People also can have agitation, and confusion which can make some healthcare providers think that they in fact may have a dementia.

Delirium will generally pass over time, but the duration of symptoms is different for each person. The best way to manage delirium is to create a safe and restful environment for the individual. Keep the lighting low and limit noise and visitors. Have family members provide support to help reinforce safety and to reorient the individual. as needed And finally, try to limit or avoid pain medications, sleeping pills, and sedatives.

It is important to become familiar with the signs and symptoms of delirium as it is becoming more common in seniors. Remember if you have questions regarding a cognitive change in a family member you can receive guidance from a Geriatric Physician or Nurse Practitioner. Geriatric Care Managers can also help and guide you along the way.....

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