Is Delirium Different Than Dementia?

Dementia risk was higher for elderly people who had delirium

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) When a person is confused or has memory problems for a very short time it is called delirium. It may raise the risk of dementia, which is a longer term issue.

A study found that people over age 85 who had delirium were almost nine times more likely to develop dementia.

Lowering the risk of delirium may help lower risk of dementia.

"Ask your doctor how to avoid delirium."

The study, led by Daniel Davis, MB ChB, of the University of Cambridge in the UK, followed 533 people over 85. They talked to patients and looked at patient records to see who had a history of delirium.

Delirium is a short period of confusion or memory loss. It can look like dementia, but only lasts hours or days.

Some reports say that as much as 40 percent of delirium is caused by medications. Some pain killers, depression drugs and sedatives have a high risk of causing delirium. Delirium can also be caused by some infections or brain injury.

Delirium can be avoided when patients work together with their doctors to understand the risks and symptoms.

Researchers did mental tests for memory and thinking skills at the start of the study.  Then they did the same tests again three, five, eight, and 10 years later.

People with a history of delirium were 8.7 times more likely to develop dementia during the study.

People who had delirium and later had dementia were also three times more likely to get worse during the study. Delirium was linked to losing one point per year on the Mini Mental State Exam, a standard test for dementia.

The authors concluded that people who had delirium are at higher risk of dementia.

This study was published August 9 in Brain. Authors on this study were funded by Wellcome Trust, Alzheimer Society, National Health and Medical Research Council in Australia among others.

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Review Date: 
August 21, 2012
Last Updated:
August 27, 2012