Sudden confusion due to toxins may be expected and at times unexpected. Ralph was 86 when he decided that he was finished with dialysis. Ralph had end stage renal disease related to diabetes, and was on dialysis for over 10 years. Now Ralph decided that enough was enough and he wasn’t going any more. Ralph understood that this would be the end of his life. Without dialysis toxins would build up, and he would become very confused before those toxins would end his life.
Mike arrived at the nursing home due to extreme sudden confusion, related to alcohol abuse. A very long history of alcohol use and abuse. When Mike arrived he had been begging for money from strangers on the street in order to go to a hotel, because he was sure someone had put cameras all over his house. He thought he could no longer live in his home because there was a bomb, and he was being watched.
Many elderly suffer from sudden confusion due to medication mistakes. When the elder is managing their own medications and do not have a good reliable system in place, mistakes often happen. The elder then is admitted to a hospital where lab tests are run, and the medication is identified. However it might then take some time for that sudden confusion to resolve.
People as they age begin having more and more difficulty with toxins. This is due to the lifetime of environmental toxins their brain has been subjected to. Just one example is the history of using leaded gas, and the toxic effects due to use of that gas. Research studies have shown that older Americans have much higher levels of lead than younger people who were not exposed.
As the elder ages, they have a reduced brain capacity due the shrinkage of the brain. The combination of reduced brain capacity and that lifetime of exposure to many environmental toxins, put them at higher risk for sudden confusion. The elderly brain just has less to work with and at the same time more to deal with. (see also delirium)
Virginia Garberding RN
Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing