A key distinguishing feature of delirium is that the onset is not gradual and may be sudden, within minutes to hours to days.
Contrasted with dementia, delirium is reversible by treating the underlying cause of the condition, such as infection, hypoxia, drug intoxication, etc.
Being “delirious” is often a combination of any or all three - hallucinations, delusions, and illusions. They may see, hear, or perceive things differently, fabricate them entirely, or misinterpret reality.
Delirium often leads to a decline in cognition. This decline may cause the patient to be disoriented in person, place, or time, experience poor judgment, and have impairments in memory.
A patient with delirium often has a short attention span. They may experience difficulty focusing and will require frequent reminding and refocusing on tasks they attempt to complete.
The patient’s speech can become garbled or incoherent due to delirium but is often rapid. The patient may appear pressured when speaking, and their speech may be irrelevant to the situation.
Patients with delirium often have a change in activity level that may include problems with the normal sleep/wake cycle, as well as insomnia.
Patients may be fearful, anxious, suspicious, aggressive, or violent. Their mood tends to fluctuate frequently, and they are often stimulated easily by stressors.
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