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The Difference Between Delirium and Dementia

If you or a loved one is experiencing cognitive difficulties, it’s essential to understand what may be causing them. Do you know the difference between delirium and dementia? Understanding that difference can help you get the guidance and medical care you need.

The Difference Between Delirium and Dementia

Age-related cognitive issues are a concern for every senior. If you or someone you love is experiencing them, seeking help is essential. However, getting the help you need can be challenging if you aren’t sure what condition is causing it. Let’s explore the difference between delirium and dementia.

What Is Delirium?

Most seniors are familiar with dementia and may even be watching out for potential signs when they begin to experience cognitive issues. However, seniors and their loved ones need to know that multiple conditions can cause cognitive difficulties for seniors. Missing a potential diagnosis can stop seniors from getting the care they need. It’s essential to do your research and seek medical attention before assuming any condition is present.

A lesser-known cause of senior cognitive issues is a condition called delirium. It is similar to dementia in that it creates cognitive difficulties for seniors. However, unlike dementia, delirium is usually temporary and can be resolved by appropriate treatment. So, how can you tell which condition you’re dealing with?

Is It Delirium or Dementia?

Determining whether a senior loved one is experiencing dementia or delirium should be left up to a medical professional. That being said, there are some critical differences between the two conditions that can help you understand what you’re dealing with:

  • A specific medical problem, like an infection or drug and alcohol withdrawal, usually causes delirium. Dementia is not as quickly linked to an existing medical problem.
  • Delirium is a rapid-onset condition where a senior’s abilities are drastically affected overnight. Dementia is a progressive disease, with minor symptoms noticeable for some time before abilities are severely affected.
  • Delirium affects a senior’s attention span more than their memory. Seniors experiencing delirium may not have trouble remembering key facts or people, but they will struggle to maintain attention and focus on essential tasks. Dementia tends to affect memory more strongly at first, though attention span is also affected by later stages of the condition.
  • Delirium can cause hyperactivity, agitation, or bizarre, unpredictable behavior. It can also cause lethargy and withdrawal. While dementia can also cause withdrawal, it occurs less rapidly than it does with a delirium patient, whose behavior will drastically change seemingly overnight.
  • Delirium is usually a temporary condition related to a specific medical issue. Once the medical problem is resolved, the delirium will also be cured. Dementia is not a temporary condition; while it can be treated and managed, it typically cannot be cured.

Can a Senior Have Delirium and Dementia at the Same Time?

One of the most important things to know about delirium and dementia is that a senior can have both conditions simultaneously. If a senior is already experiencing dementia, diagnosing delirium can be more challenging. Because an existing and treatable medical condition usually causes delirium, it needs to be diagnosed for a senior’s health and well-being.


Now that you know the difference between delirium and dementia, you can move forward with confidence. If you suspect a loved one may be struggling, talk to a medical professional today.

Are you looking for a premier assisted living and memory care community in the heart of downtown Greenville, South Carolina? Come visit us at Waterstone on Augusta. Our community is both relaxing and elegant, and we strive to enhance the quality of life of the seniors we serve through teamwork and unity. To learn more about our amenities and to view our lovely community, please schedule a tour online or call us today at 864-605-7236.