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Delirium: Assessing Mental Wellness When Symptoms Are Unclear

Recognizing the difference between dementia symptoms and other mental health issues can make dealing with dementia challenging

There are many symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia which vary as the disease progresses. If you care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, you probably notice how their behavior, abilities, and mood change even just throughout the day. Because Alzheimer’s disease causes physical changes in the brain, it impacts all facets of person’s brain function, not just their memory. With all the symptoms and changes brought on by Alzheimer’s disease, dealing with dementia can be extremely hard for family caregivers.

Some of the most common symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia include confusion, sudden changes in mood, temporary or permanent short and long-term memory loss, disinterest in activities, and physical pain. Unfortunately, these symptoms overlap with serious mental illnesses like depression and delirium.

Read our blog Differentiating Depression from Dementia to learn more about how to identify symptoms, seek medical advice, and find the support you and your loved one need.

Dealing with Dementia: When is a change in behavior delirium?

Delirium is a medical condition that results in confusion and other disruptions in thinking and behavior, including changes in perception, attention, mood, and activity level. Seniors living with delirium are susceptible to delirium, but this condition can occur in adults without dementia as well. For this reason, delirium is often unrecognized by healthcare professionals because the symptoms are shared by dementia. [Source]

Seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia typically experience changes in memory and behavior slowly over time. As researchers continue to learn more about the disease, doctors are better able to recognize symptoms of early-stage, middle-stage, and late-stage Alzheimer’s and recommend appropriate action. Dealing with dementia can be more manageable once families understand what stage of the disease they loved one is at, expectations of progression, and symptom treatment options.

Delirium is different from dementia in that the changes in intellect, behavior, and activity level happens suddenly. Unlike the subtle decline of Alzheimer’s disease, the confusion of delirium fluctuates throughout the day, often very dramatically. Delirium may make it impossible to speak coherently or cause sudden drowsiness.

Some of the causes of delirium include:

  • Acute medical illnesses, such as a urinary tract infection or the flu
  • Stroke
  • Bleeding in the brain from an unrecognized head injury
  • Adverse reaction to a medication, mix of medications, or alcohol

If you suspect your loved one is experiencing delirium, contact their doctor. Delirium may be the first indicator that a medication or mix of medications is causing a negative reaction. Once you have contacted medical professionals, create a calm environment that helps your loved one relax. Managing temporary delirium is similar to dealing with dementia symptoms in that you want to create a quiet, relaxed environment that doesn’t overstimulate or overwhelm your loved one.

Mental Wellness and Living with Dementia

For seniors who have Alzheimer’s, distinguishing the differences between the symptoms of dementia and other mental illnesses is difficult. Even medical professionals continue to struggle to correctly assess mental wellness in adults with dementia. The most important thing to remember is that reporting new symptoms as soon as they appear is crucial to correct diagnosis. Keep track of your loved one’s behavioral, emotional, and cognitive changes. When sudden symptoms appear, it may an indication of something other than Alzheimer’s or dementia. Doctors, therapists, and memory care professionals are specially trained to assess the mental wellness of seniors with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Unlike most mental illnesses that can be treated and even cured by compressive mental health services, dementia has no cure. The progressive nature of this disease means that your loved one’s condition will continue to deteriorate. When your loved one’s needs become too great for you to manage at home, the time may come to place them in a memory care home. ComfortCare Homes of Wichita, KS, offers a unique Residential approach to specialized Alzheimer’s and dementia care. In addition to providing safe, comfortable, comprehensive memory care, ComfortCare Homes also supports families and loved one's dealing with dementia.

For more information about memory care services provided by ComfortCare Homes, please call our office at (316) 444-0532.

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