Mental Confusion Symptoms

By Tiffany Tseng. May 7th 2016

The term “mental confusion” is often used synonymously with “off the hook,” “bonkers,” or “crazy” in modern day slang. However, it can be much more than not knowing something, or just being “out of it.” Read on to learn more about mental confusion as an actual medical condition.


Clinically, mental confusion is used interchangeably with delirium, and are both defined as an inability to focus, loss of memory, and general disorganization of behavior that leads to poor judgment and actions. It is important to note that delirium and dementia are two different conditions, even if they have similar signs and symptoms; the former can be more acute and short-tem, while the latter takes place over a period of time and is more permanent.


Generally, there are three types of mental confusion:

  • Hypoactive: the affected individual is sleepy, withdrawn, unresponsive, and seemingly lost in his or her state of mind. This type is harder to detect based on its passive nature, and can be misdiagnosed as depression.
  • Hyperactive: the affected individual is agitated, full of energy, and has delusions or hallucinations. This is usually the more difficult type of delirium, as the hyperactive patient can interfere with treatment procedures. This can also be misdiagnosed as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
  • Mixed: the affected individual possesses both traits of hypoactive and hyperactive delirium.

More than two-thirds of the cases are hyperactive or mixed delirium. All three types possess similar signs and symptoms of mental confusion.

Signs And Symptoms

All types of mental confusion share similar signs and symptoms, including:

  • Depression
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Restlessness, anxiety, irritability
  • Disturbed sleeps
  • Clouded consciousness or awareness
  • Decreased or no attention span
  • Loss or decreased short-term memory
  • Disorganized speech and thought process
  • Disorientation
  • Reversing day and night
  • Difficulty writing, drawing or finding words
  • Emotional and behavioral changes
  • Unsteady gait and/or tremors
  • Tendency to wander in a confused manner

Other types of mental conditions, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, have similar symptoms as that of mental confusion. Delirium can also be an indication of other life-threatening conditions that may not be immediately present (such as sepsis of the body), so be sure to seek a medical professional for the proper diagnosis.


There are many factors that can cause mental confusion, and almost all of them have to do with the brain or the neurological system. Potential causes for delirium can include but are not limited to:

  • Cancers or tumors of the brain
  • Withdrawal from medications or abused substances
  • Side effects of medications or treatments, such as chemotherapy
  • Fluid or mineral imbalance within the body, specifically calcium or potassium
  • Organ failure
  • Infection of the spinal cord or brain-related parts
  • Lack of oxygen in the blood
  • Other brain disorders
  • Post-surgery effects
  • Psychological trauma or abuse
  • Malnutrition
  • Old age (greater than 65 years old)
  • Migraines
  • Vitamin D, thiamin, or vitamin B12 deficiency
  • Other hormonal disorders
  • Trauma to the head or brain
  • Sepsis of the body
  • High fevers
  • Malaria
  • Poison from neurological toxins

Tips For Management

If you are taking care of a loved one who is suffering from delirium without a treatable cause, here are few ways that can help with management:

1. Supportive management. This can be employed with individuals who goes in and out of mental confusion with clear episodes in between:

  • Adopt a clear communication model
  • Remind the person of the date, time, location, and identification of surrounding others
  • Have a clock available
  • Keep the patient around familiar objects from home
  • Keep the doctor and nurse staff consistent
  • Keep the patient relaxed
  • Keep the family and care givers involved

2. Environmental management. This can provide a relaxed atmosphere to minimize recurring episodes:

  • Avoid extreme sensory stimulation
  • Regulate sleep schedule
  • Keep the room spacious, controlled, and calming
  • Provide good nutrition
  • If the patient wanders, have familiar family members distract them and bring them back to the present

3. Medical management. This involves a series of treatment, therapy, or medication as prescribed by the physician. Depending on the individual’s needs, the doctor may prescribe antipsychotics or antidepressants. If the person’s delirium is due to substance abuse, such as drugs or alcohol, rehabilitation programs may be employed for proper recovery.

4. Do not be afraid to ask for help. There are doctors, nurses, and in-home care takers who can make this a better experience for both yourself and your affected loved one.

Taking care and managing a loved one suffering from mental confusion can be extremely trying and exhausting. Be sure to take care of your own health as well, and do not be afraid to speak out or ask for help.


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