Delirium Vs. Dementia – Understanding The Differences

Updated December 12, 2018

Reviewer Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC

Both delirium and dementia are conditions that negatively impact the lives of several people, yet many don't quite understand what the differences between these two conditions are. They do have some similarities which can lead to confusion. However, there are specific qualities that can help you to understand both of these diseases better.

The most important distinction that needs to be made is that delirium is something that occurs suddenly whereas dementia progresses over time. Delirium is an acute disease whereas dementia is a progressive one. Sometimes a patient can develop symptoms of delirium while suffering from dementia at the same time.

The conversation about delirium vs. dementia has been going on for quite some time. It is something that many medical professionals talk about and you will benefit from learning a bit more about the subject. If you have a family member that suffers from either condition or if you have recently been diagnosed yourself, then you'll be very interested in digging into the details of this topic. Read on as the particulars of each condition are discussed.


What Is Delirium?

The basics of delirium is fairly simple to understand. You can define delirium as a temporary state of confusion. As mentioned briefly above, this is an acute state of mind that will go away after an amount of time has passed. There are many different causes of delirium.

Physical problems can cause a patient to develop delirium with infection and severe dehydration among the most common reasons. Sometimes patients can have an adverse reaction to certain medications that will put them into a state of delirium. There are different causes for this condition and many factors need to be considered.

Severe issues such as kidney failure and liver failure can put a patient into a state of delirium as well as head trauma or certain tumors. The severity of the delirium can differ from patient to patient, but usually the symptoms are similar, but may be more pronounced. Doctors will want to strictly monitor patients that are in this state to ensure their safety.

What Are The Symptoms Of Delirium?

The most common symptom of delirium is an overall feeling of confusion. A patient that is in a state of delirium will have trouble concentrating and may become easily distracted. Hallucinations or delusional thoughts are possible while they are suffering from delirium and can be as if the patient is in an altered state of reality during this time.

Sometimes delirium is so severe that a patient will become unresponsive to stimuli and may not be able to respond to questions properly or maintain a normal conversation. The cognitive skills of people suffering from delirium are severely impaired; their memory is impacted greatly, and they may not be able to recall things that have recently occurred.

Patients may not even know who they are or may forget close family members while in this state. They may ramble and speak incoherently, which can be quite frightening for their loved ones. It is possible that the patient may have trouble speaking after a certain amount of time as well. Not all of these symptoms will be present in each patient that is suffering from delirium, but it can be any combination of these symptoms.

You should also know that this delirious state can cause extreme anxiety and irritability in patients. It isn't uncommon for delirious individuals to lash out at loved ones in hurtful ways, but it is important to remember they are not in their right mind while suffering from delirium. Patients may even fluctuate between feelings of extreme anger and being frightened, which is a scary situation for both the patient and their loved ones.

What Is Dementia?

Dementia is completely different from delirium, even if some of the symptoms may be the same during particularly bad moments. Dementia is a progressive disease that causes gradual cognitive decline. The condition can take a long time to impact people severely but how long it takes differs from patient to patient.

What remains consistent is the difficulty loved ones suffer watching a loved one slowly lose their mental faculties over the course of several years.


This disease causes severe memory loss in patients. One type of dementia that people are very aware of is Alzheimer's. This causes the people who are suffering from it to forget large portions of their life and isn't entirely uncommon for someone with Alzheimer's to forget who their family is once their symptoms have progressed to a certain point.

Dementia is mostly a blanket term that is used to describe several diseases, Alzheimer's is just one of them. More conditions fall into the category of dementia such as Vascular dementia which commonly occurs after a patient has suffered a stroke and Lewy body dementia which is a rare form of the condition that occurs due to a mutated gene.

Regardless of the type of dementia that you are talking about, it is characterized by negatively affecting the cognitive abilities of the patient. They will suffer from memory loss, confusion, and many other symptoms because of this disease. In some cases, dementia can be treated effectively, but there is no cure for the most common types of dementia. It is a disease that is being thoroughly researched to give the medical community a greater understanding of how to treat it.

What Are The Symptoms Of Dementia?

The most common symptom of dementia that people are aware of is memory loss. People suffering from different types of dementia will have memory problems and may even forget about large chunks of time. In severe cases, patients may forget what period they are in and will think that they are the younger version of themselves. Alzheimer's patients have been known to forget their families once the condition has progressed to a certain point.

Other symptoms of dementia can include problems maintaining focus, difficulties with communicating, inability to make good decisions, and even visual problems. These symptoms are typically secondary, but still serious. People who are suffering from severe dementia will exhibit symptoms of impaired judgment, and this may mean that another family member will have to look out for their best interests. As an example, patients with later stage dementia will not be capable of making financial decisions for themselves.

Early Signs For Dementia That You Should Look Out For


There are some early warning signs that you can look out for if you're worried about dementia. One of the first things that people notice when dementia is starting to present itself is memory problems. You may experience memory loss or at least have difficulty recalling recent events. If your memory loss starts to become a danger, then it may be a sign of dementia. A good example of this is forgetting to turn off the stove and causing a fire.

Sometimes people will begin having trouble thinking of certain words that they should know. You might be trying to tell someone about what you had for lunch and suddenly you will forget the word meatloaf. It could be any common word that you may forget at any given time. This is simply an indication that your cognitive abilities have been impaired in some way.

Another early sign is when your problem-solving skills start to suffer. If you used to be able to follow things closely and formulate plans, but now you're having difficulties, it may be an indication for concern. Sometimes people have trouble following television programs or movies when they are in the early stages of dementia. It may seem inconsequential, but it can be a sign that your cognitive abilities are becoming worse.

Sudden confusion is another one of the early signs of dementia. If you are driving to a location that you have been to many times before and suddenly get confused, it could be a sign of dementia. Occasionally dementia patients will start driving home and wind up in another city entirely due to a combination of confusion and memory loss. This can have a very negative impact on your psyche, and you should speak to your doctor if this occurs to you.

Counselors Can Help You Cope With Your Diagnosis

If you are suffering from symptoms of dementia, then you may need to seek out professional help to cope. Once you have been diagnosed with a disease like this, it can be tough to accept what is happening to you. You don't want to feel like your mind is slowly going to worsen. This is a tough situation to be in, but you can do your best to live your life how you want to move forward.

One of the best things that you can do to cope with the situation is to talk about it. If you want to seek professional help with feelings of anxiety or depression, then it will be readily available to you. Many dementia patients become anxious or depressed due to their situation. It is normal to be afraid, and you should reach out to others when you need help or want to be reassured.

Skilled counselors will be able to talk with you about your symptoms and your feelings. There is no reason to suffer through this time in your life alone. Even if you feel embarrassed about going to see a counselor in person, it will be possible to seek help online. You can sign up over at to get professional counseling today.

Being able to talk with a friendly professional about the changes in your life may help you to feel better about the situation. Feeling like you have allies in your battle against dementia can be very beneficial.



The delirium vs. dementia topic is easy to understand once you have all the proper information. Delirium is a temporary condition that is brought about by certain physical conditions or other factors. Dementia is a progressive disease that can erode a person's cognitive abilities. Both can be scary, but delirium will pass after a certain amount of time.

If you are concerned about whether you may be showing early signs of dementia, then you should reach out to your doctor. They will be able to assist you in figuring out the best steps to take. You need to speak with your doctor about everything that is going on with you. They will have you tested properly so that you can definitively determine what the cause of your symptoms are.

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