Dementia can make people more likely to experience delirium. People who are over 80 and live with dementia are at greater risk, particularly during a hospital stay, when up to 50% of people with dementia develop delirium.
Older people with delirium and dementia often need longer stays in hospital, are more prone to falls or accidents, and are more likely to be moved into a care home.
It can be difficult to recognise delirium in people with dementia because it has similar symptoms such as confusion, memory loss and problems with concentration. However, it’s important to know the signs and seek medical help quickly if you spot them.
If a person is experiencing delirium, their doctor should check for underlying causes, such as signs of infection like a high temperature.
They should ask you or the person whether they’re having problems with things like constipation or passing urine, and look at what medications they take.
They may also request blood and urine tests.
Often, delirium gets better if the underlying problem is treated. For example, if the person has an infection they may be prescribed antibiotics, or if they are constipated they may be given laxatives. Sometimes, there is no treatable cause of delirium; in these cases, the person may just need time and rest to recover.
If the person is particularly distressed, they may be given calming or sedating medication in the short term. However, for some people these medications make delirium worse, so they should only be used if absolutely necessary – for instance, if the person is at risk of harming themselves or someone else.
About 60% of people with delirium recover within a week. Some people, however, take longer to recover, and some never get back to exactly how they were before – this is more likely if they have dementia.
If you have any questions or concerns about dementia, you can contact our free Admiral Nurse Dementia Helpline on 0800 888 6678 (Monday-Friday 9am-9pm, Saturday and Sunday 9am-5pm, every day except Christmas Day) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.