Confusion and Memory Problems in Older People
Published: 22 September 2015
Published: 22 September 2015
Knowing your client will give you some indication of their basic memory ability and general day-to-day functioning. This can be obtained from the client, their family and friends, and from other healthcare professionals providing them with care.
There are a number of factors that could be contributing to memory loss and confusion. Typical causes include dementia, acute illness and delirium.
Dementia affects people differently, but generally, it impacts a person’s ability to carry out activities of daily living. There can also be changes in their memory, personality and behaviour. Symptoms of this may include asking the same question repeatedly, getting lost in familiar places, being unable to follow directions and neglecting hygiene or nutrition.
Some acute illnesses have symptoms that may include confusion and memory problems. Conditions that may cause these symptoms include a high fever, urinary tract infections, dehydration or a reaction to medications. Confusion generally comes on suddenly in cases like this and is reversible once the underlying condition is treated.
Delirium is a serious medical condition. Changes in perception, mood and activity are generally how it presents. Generally, delirium is reversible, but sometimes it can cause long-term irreversible damage. Although it is often associated with post-operative events, delirium can also be the result of a brain event such as a stroke or unrecognised bleeding from a brain injury, sudden withdrawal from medication, or withdrawal after prolonged heavy alcohol and nicotine usage.
Having a baseline indication of the health and functional status of your client is essential. If you are concerned that your patient is becoming increasingly confused or displaying increased memory problems, ask yourself the following questions:
If you suspect at any time that your client’s confusion and memory problems are the result of an acute medical episode, consult their doctor immediately.
If your client has been diagnosed with dementia, increased confusion is a natural progression of this disease. They may also experience ‘sundowning’ (increased confusion in the evening). In managing patients with dementia and those with cases of acute confusion, there are techniques that you may be able to incorporate into their routine that might help with these episodes:
Memory loss and confusion were once considered a normal part of ageing. However, this is no longer the case, with scientists finding that although it may take little longer for them to remember things, older people can remain alert and capable as they age. When confusion and memory problems do set in, it is important to establish whether they are part of a deteriorating condition or the result of an acute illness.
Not all episodes of increased confusion and decreased memory will be reversible. In older clients, these symptoms may be part of an ongoing medical condition such as dementia. If there are ongoing repercussions from these episodes, then it is important that the client's healthcare plan is updated and adjusted accordingly. Make sure the client, as well as their support network, are informed appropriately so that the client can receive the best care available.
Susan Tredenick is a healthcare consultant with extensive experience in aged and community care. Operating in a range of industries, including Not-for-Profit, NGO and Private companies, she has a special interest in supporting people to be engaged with their healthcare management. Working with innovative companies allows this to be a reality as well as develop her interest in delivering speaking engagements to the community. With a background in nursing and management, her career includes roles in clinical and case management as well as project management with Telehealth and Telecare Research. See Educator Profile