Before the start of my business as a health advocate, I was a physician assistant for the department of internal medicine. One of my responsibilities was to provide medical consultations to all patients admitted to the geriatric psychiatry unit. Many of the patients arrived at the unit experiencing significant behavior changes. Many patients displayed signs of confusion, depression, or aggression. Many of these changes started within a few days or even weeks of admission.

My role was to determine the medical reason for the patient’s behavioral changes. The purpose of the medical consultation was to determine if the changes resulted from acute delirium or were related to worsening dementia or another psychiatric condition.  

Delirium is a change in mental abilities leading to confusion and reduction in awareness of your environment. The changes typically occur rapidly within hours or days. Contributing factors include infections, medications, drug or alcohol withdrawal, surgery, or metabolic disturbances such as low thyroid function or low sodium levels.

Patients with delirium may experience poor memory, disorientation to person or place, trouble speaking or remembering words, difficulty understanding speech, or inability to read or write. They may also have hallucinations, restlessness, agitation, combativeness, lethargy, and sleep disturbances. Lastly, emotional disturbances can include anxiety, depression, anger, apathy, and personality changes.

These symptoms are commonly seen in people with dementia, making it harder to determine if dementia or delirium may have caused these changes. People with dementia can also develop acute delirium.

In my role as a health advocate, I often receive calls from family members telling me that their parent’s dementia has suddenly gotten worse. Dementia does not rapidly decline. The decline is most likely caused by a medical condition or reaction to medications, resulting in acute delirium. If the cause of the patient’s delirium is found, recovery might be possible with the right treatment. However, the level of improvement is dependent upon the patient’s health and mental status before the onset of the symptoms.

Acute changes in mental status are often a sign of a worsening medical condition, requiring complete medical evaluation. Severino Health Advisors can help your family member get the care they need to determine if they have any signs of acute delirium. Call today to see how we can help.