THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN DELIRIUM AND DEMENTIA
Dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, is one of the most devastating conditions of older age. Currently affecting nearly 7 million individuals in the United States and 24 million worldwide, dementia leads to total loss of memory and the inability to function independently—making it one of people’s greatest fears of aging.
Delirium is an acute state of confusion, a common and serious complication in older individuals that often follows surgery or serious illness. Sometimes accompanied by disorientation, paranoia, and hallucinations, delirium develops in 14% to 56% of all hospitalized seniors, complicating hospital stays for more than 2.5 million older individuals in the United States each year.
For the most part, dementia and delirium have been viewed as separate and distinct conditions. But a special section of January’s The Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences looks at their interface, asking: Can delirium itself lead to the development of a cognitive disorder? Do delirium and dementia represent opposite ends of the same spectrum of disease rather than two separate conditions?
In a 1999 study in The New England Journal of Medicine reported that delirium could be decreased by 40% by implementing a number of interventions while patients are hospitalized. These include making sure that patients are oriented and hydrated, up and walking, using their hearing aids and vision aids, and avoiding the use of sleep medications.