Delirium is a mental and emotional disorder caused by a sudden shift in the brain. It makes it difficult to think, pay attention, remember, sleep and do a variety of other things.
You may suffer as a side effect of alcohol withdrawal, surgery or dementia. Delirium is generally just temporary and may be effectively treated.
Read: Mixed Dementia
Types of delirium
Delirium is classified according to its cause, severity and symptoms:
- Delirium tremens is an extreme type of the disease that individuals who are trying to quit drinking experience. They’ve usually been consuming excessive amounts of alcohol for a long time.
- Hyperactive delirium is characterized by a high level of alertness and unwillingness to cooperate.
- It’s more usual to have hypoactive delirium. This personality type is prone to sleeping more and becoming inattentive and unorganized when it comes to everyday duties. You could forget to eat or keep appointments.
Some persons develop mixed delirium, which is a mixture of hyperactive and hypoactive delirium that alternates between the two states.
Delirium and dementia
Dementia and delirium can be hard to distinguish, and it is possible for someone to have both conditions. Those suffering from dementia gradually lose their memory and reasoning abilities as a result of brain damage or loss. Most dementias are caused by Alzheimer’s disease, a slow disease that develops over the course of many months or years.
People with dementia often experience delirium. The presence of delirium does not necessarily indicate dementia. It is not advisable to test for dementia during a delirium episode since the results might be inaccurate.
Dementia and delirium have some differences, including:
- Onset. It usually takes a day or two for delirium to begin. Symptoms of dementia usually start out mild and worsen over time.
- Attention. Dementia impairs focus or the ability to maintain it. When dementia is in its early stages, a person is generally alert. Dementia patients are usually not sluggish or agitated.
- Symptoms quickly change. It is common for delirium symptoms to appear and disappear several times throughout the day. The memory and thinking skills of people with dementia are generally unchanged throughout the day, even when they have better and worse days.
What is the cause of delirium?
Inflammation and infection-causing diseases, such as pneumonia, can impair brain function. Taking some medications (such as blood pressure medication) or abusing substances can also cause chemical disruption in the brain.
It can also be caused by alcohol withdrawal or by eating or drinking toxic substances.
Your brain does not get enough oxygen when you have difficulties breathing due to asthma or another illness. Any illness or factor that alters your brain’s function considerably might produce serious mental disorientation.
Read: Vascular Dementia
Who is vulnerable to delirium?
You’re more likely to develop delirium if you’re over 65 or have a number of health problems.
Other people who are at a higher risk of delirium include:
- Persons who have had surgery
- Those who are avoiding from alcohol and drugs
- People who have suffered from brain-damaging disorders (for example, stroke and dementia)
- Persons who are experiencing severe emotional distress
This disorder can also be caused by the following factors:
- Lack of sleep
- Some medications (like sleeping pills, blood pressure medications, sedatives and pain relievers)
- Poor nutrition
- Infections such as a urinary tract infection
It has an impact on your cognition, emotions, muscular control and sleeping habits.
You may find it difficult to concentrate or be unsure of your whereabouts. You could also find yourself moving more slowly or swiftly than normal, as well as experiencing mood swings.
Other signs and symptoms of delirium might include:
- Not being able to think or communicate properly
- Sleeping problems and drowsiness
- Short-term memory loss
- Muscle control loss (for example, incontinence)
Read: Frontotemporal Dementia
How is delirium diagnosed?
Confusion assessment method
Your doctor will evaluate you to determine if you can think, speak, and move normally while observing your symptoms.
To evaluate or rule out the disorder, some doctors utilize the Confusion Assessment Method (CAM). This aids them in determining whether or not:
- Your mood swings throughout the day, especially if you’re in the hospital.
- You have trouble paying attention or following what others are saying.
- You’re rambling
Exams and tests
Changes in brain chemistry can be caused by a variety of circumstances. Your doctor will perform tests related to your symptoms and past medical history to figure out what’s causing it.
Checking for imbalances may require one or more of the following tests:
- Blood chemistry test
- Head scans
- Drug and alcohol tests
- Thyroid tests
- Liver tests
- X-ray of the chest
- Urine tests
Read: Lewy Body Dementia
Treatment for delirium may include taking or discontinuing specific medicines, depending on the reason.
Because delirium symptoms are similar to dementia, but the therapies are quite different, an accurate diagnosis is critical for therapy in older individuals.
The actual cause of your delirium will be treated with medicines prescribed by your doctor. For example, antibiotics may be administered if the delirium symptoms are caused by a bacterial infection.
Your doctor may advise you to quit consuming alcohol or stop taking certain medications in specific situations (such as codeine or other drugs that depress your system).
You may be given modest dosages of one of the following medicines if you’re agitated or depressed:
- Antidepressants to help alleviate depression
- Sedatives to relieve alcohol withdrawal
- Dopamine blockers to benefit with drug poisoning
- Thiamine, to aid in the prevention of confusion
Counseling might help you reorient your thinking if you’re feeling disoriented.
Counseling is frequently utilized to help persons who have become delirious as a result of drug or alcohol abuse. In some situations, the therapy may be able to assist you in abstaining from the substances that caused the delirium.
Counseling is designed to help you feel at ease and provide you with a secure environment in which to express your thoughts and feelings.
Identifying risk factors that could trigger delirium is the best way to prevent it. There are special challenges associated with hospital settings. There are many things to deal with during a hospital stay, including room changes, invasive procedures, loud noises, and poor lighting. It is possible for confusion to worsen due to lack of natural light and inadequate sleep.
Delirium can be prevented or reduced in severity by taking certain steps. This can be accomplished by teaching good sleep habits, encouraging calm and well-balanced behavior, and preventing medical problems. In addition, avoid diphenhydramine-containing sleep medication (Benadryl Allergy, Unisom, etc.).
With the appropriate therapy, you can fully recover from delirium. It may take several weeks for you to think, speak and feel like yourself again.
The drugs used to treat this illness may cause you to have adverse effects. Any issues you may have should be discussed with your doctor.