A recent study shows that delirium can be linked to mortality rates in nursing homes. The report, authored by Dr. Martin M. Forsberg of the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, found that roughly 18% of the nursing home population suffers from delirium. Delirium is a serious disturbance in mental abilities that results in confusion, abnormal thinking or behavior, and affects perception, attention, and mood. Another characteristic of delirium is restlessness.
At first glance, the signs of delirium may look a lot like dementia, which is a byproduct of Alzheimer’s disease, but the two are different conditions. Dementia as a result of Alzheimer’s primarily affects an individual’s memory and intellectual abilities, while delirium is displayed more in abrupt spurts of confusion. One key difference is inattention, as individuals suffering from delirium have trouble focusing on one idea or task. On their face, the two conditions may appear almost indistinguishable, which is why many nursing home patients who suffer from delirium are misdiagnosed as having Alzheimer’s, which means they do not receive the proper medical care.
The two also differ by how they are brought on. Dementia as a result of Alzheimer’s is not always a normal part of aging. Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s. Delirium, on the other hand, is normally caused by a combination of factors that make the brain vulnerable and trigger a malfunction in neuropathic activity. There may be a single contributing factor or a combination of factors including malnutrition, dehydration, sleep deprivation, emotional distress, chronic illness, and surgery or other medical procedures that involved anesthesia. For instance, a patient may suffer from a serious illness while simultaneously facing neglect from caregivers. Certain environmental factors may play a role in delirium. For example, the absence of a clock, television, or phone in a nursing patient’s room has been found to worsen the symptoms of delirium.