Is Delirium Always a Sign of Dementia?

Cognitive Impairment Has a Variety of Causes

Delirium and Dementia

When caregiving for elderly parents, especially those who live independently, many adult children are continually on the lookout for signs of cognitive impairment, memory loss, and confusion. Dementia is a broad term associated with a range of progressive medical conditions that impair brain function. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. Providing senior care for a loved one who is deteriorating due to dementia is heartbreaking, and it is understandable that families fear the worst when their elderly loved ones exhibit strange or new behavior.

Not all cognitive impairment episodes are the worst-case scenario, however. Delirium, which also presents with confusion, impaired memory, or disorientation is typically a reversible condition caused by a specific issue. Delirium onset is usually sudden, and there may be wide fluctuations in the individual’s impairment.

Seek Medical Diagnosis for Any Cognitive Impairment

It is important to take your aging parent to the doctor when signs of cognitive impairment are present. There are treatment options available for most conditions, but a proper diagnosis is necessary. Delirium symptoms may be especially alarming to witness but can often be quickly resolved with timely action.

Delirium is caused by a number of different issues including:

  • Head trauma – If a recent fall caused a concussion, an aging adult may show signs of confusion, forgetfulness, or disorientation. If the individual forgot about the fall, recognizing the cause may be especially difficult.
  • Infection – Illness causes inflammation that often impacts mental functions, but this is more pronounced in older patients. Antibiotic treatment of infections such as urinary tract infection or pneumonia will often also lead to restoration of cognitive function.
  • Toxins – Herbal remedies or new medicines may have side effects or interactions that cause delirium. Always make sure your aging parent’s doctor knows about every supplement and medication she is taking.
  • Environmental Factors – Did your parent recently have surgery or a procedure? Is she struggling with sleep deprivation? When was the last time her hearing and vision were checked? Many seemingly minor life events can exacerbate the natural effects of aging on cognitive function to produce symptoms of delirium. Making a list of recent environmental changes for your parent’s doctors will help them narrow down the cause.

Maintain Engagement for Long-term Health Benefits

While it’s impossible to completely prevent every potential cause of dementia or delirium, an active social life may help. Visiting and talking with friends or getting daily physical activity keeps an aging adult’s mind active. At the very least, regular interaction with your aging parent will help you recognize symptoms that should be assessed by a doctor sooner rather than later. Simply being aware of potential causes of delirium will help you monitor your aging parent when she has a procedure, change in medication, or an illness.


Want to know more about Simplify Senior Living?

Simplify Senior Living LLC is a concierge home help service in Pennsylvania dedicated to providing senior home care that puts quality of life first.  An advocate for seniors and a Certified Senior Advisor experienced in family counseling and life coaching, Simplify Senior Living’s Loretta Shacklett provides emotional support and companionship to clients that prioritizes quality of life while supporting families requiring caregiving services.  We offer daily, weekly, or monthly care packages, providing Home, Lifestyle, and Companionship services.  We serve Montgomery County, the Main Line, Chestnut Hill, and the surrounding areas.

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