Symptoms of Elderly Confusion 2017-01-26T19:43:53-08:00

Recognizing Symptoms of Elderly Confusion

Symptoms of elderly confusion can be hard to spot at first. It may first take the form of small bouts of forgetfulness or delirium. It could also be the early signs of dementia or alzheimer’s disease. So it’s vital to be aware and not leave anything to chance.

Communication problems

The person may use the wrong words when talking because they can’t remember the correct ones. he may not understand what is being said to him.

It can be frustrating trying to figure out what someone suffering from elderly confusion is trying to say. Be patient and understanding.

Try these strategies for recognizing symptoms of elderly confusion:

  • Look for non-verbal signals. What is the tone of voice? What are the facial expressions? Gestures?
  • Speak slowly.
  • Be calm.
  • Face the person and maintain eye contact.
  • Explain your actions.
  • Use simple, familiar words.
  • Use clear, short sentences.
  • Allow time for them to respond.
  • Use nonverbal cues, such as pointing or touching. Smile.
  • Repeat sentences if needed.
  • Tell the person what you want him to do, rather than what you don’t want him to do. This is often easier for the confused client to understand.
  • Ask only simple questions.
  • Provide only two choices or options.
  • Try to keep conversation topics pleasant.


Disorientation means not knowing where you are or what time it is. It can also mean not knowing who you are.

  • Try to orientate him to the present. Whenever you are with him, call the person by name.
  • Identify the time of day by saying, “Good morning” or “Good night” and tell him what the weather is like.
  • Encourage him to look out a window. Tell him what is happening.
    Talk to him about special occasions. For example, in December, talk to him about Christmas or Hanukkah.

Difficulty Sleeping

Pain, discomfort, side effects from medications, too much tea or coffee, hunger, and the need to go to the bathroom can all cause difficulty sleeping.

To promote sleep, encourage these strategies:

  • Get up at the same time every day.
  • Encourage regular activity throughout the day. Discourage afternoon napping. However, rest periods are helpful.
  • Avoid sweets and caffeine during the evening. Avoid eating a big meal shortly before bedtime. A light snack shortly before bed shouldn’t be a problem. Fluids should be restricted in the evening. Having to get up to go to the bathroom will interrupt sleep.
  • Establish a bedtime routine. Try to include parts of the routine he used at home. Make sure the person changes into nightclothes.
  • Make sure they use the bathroom. A back rub or relaxation tapes may help him relax. Some people may find comfort in a stuffed animal or hearing soft music.
  • At night, keep lighting low. A night light may help prevent the person from becoming agitated if they don’t wake up during the night.
  • If the person wakes up agitated during the night, approach in a calm manner. Find out if s/he wants anything. Remind quietly of the time and reassure him that everything is okay.
  • If you suspect that their difficulty sleeping is due to pain, the medication he is taking, or a bladder condition, check with their health care professionals. If they continue to stay awake at night, they may need a sleeping pill to help him relax in the evening.

Difficulty eating

Feeding difficulties can also be one of the symptoms of elderly confusion, include forgetting to eat, forgetting how to eat, becoming distracted while eating, and having a poor appetite.

  • Use the same routines during mealtimes. Encourage person to sit in the same place during meals.
  • Use plain patterns on tablecloths and dishes as they can be distracting.
  • Try to limit noise during mealtimes. Playing soft music, however, may help.
  • Find out what foods the person likes and dislikes. Try to include food that he likes.
  • Limit his choices. Offer only one utensil and one dish at a time. Finger foods are good.
  • Small, frequent meals may work better than larger meals. Provide verbal encouragement while eating. “That’s good, try more of the sandwich now.”
  • Remember safety. Ensure their food is cut into small pieces and drinks are not too hot. Remove utensils or dishes that could be dangerous. Don’t rush them while he is eating.

Other Symptoms of Elderly Confusion

Confusion, like many chronic diseases that get worse over time, exist on a spectrum. Aggression, irritablity, restlessness, wandering, difficulties with bathing and toileting are just part of the many symptoms of elderly confusion. For some people the symptoms may be minor and manageable. For others, it can be extreme.


If you think a family member or friend may be suffering the beginning signs of elderly confusion, whether it’s alzheimer’s disease, delirium or dementia, go through the check list below for a start. Click here to download the checklist.

Always refer to your health care professional to ensure the person suffering from confusion is getting the optimal treatment based on their own particular case.

❑ Difficulty thinking clearly
❑ Limited attention span
❑ Difficulty remembering things
❑ Putting items in unusual places
❑ Difficulty in caring for themselves
❑ Poor judgment
❑ Unsafe behaviour
❑ Wearing the wrong clothes
❑ Difficulty performing multi-step activities
❑ Not knowing where they are
❑ Wandering
❑ Drowsiness
❑ Moving slowly
❑ Restless/agitated
❑ Repeat the same activity
❑ Emotional problems
❑ Sleeping problems
❑ Difficulty communicating

All About Confusion

Confusion is a common condition, particularly among older people. Confused people act in ways that can be challenging for busy caregivers. They may resist bathing, eating, and toileting. They may sleep during the day and wander during the night. They may become agitated and irritable.

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