What is disorientation?
Disorientation is an altered mental state. A person who’s
disoriented may not know their location and identity or the time and date.
It’s often accompanied with other symptoms such as:
- confusion, or being unable to think with your
normal level of clarity
- delirium, or being confused and having disrupted
- having delusions, or believing things even if
they’ve been proven false
- agitation, or feelings of aggressiveness and
- hallucinating, or seeing or hearing things that
- wandering around
What causes disorientation?
Disorientation can be a symptom of many different medical
conditions. So it’s important to look out for other symptoms that may accompany
Delirium and dementia
Two common causes of disorientation are delirium and dementia.
Delirium is caused by sudden abnormal brain functioning that
lasts for only a short period of time. It can be triggered by medications,
infections, and trauma.
Something as simple as a change in surroundings can also be
a trigger for delirium. For example, certain adults may experience hospital
delirium after surgery or after being in intensive care.
The three types of delirium are:
Hyperactive delirium may cause hallucinations and agitated
behavior. Hypoactive delirium may cause drowsiness and withdrawn behavior.
Mixed delirium may cause both types of behavior.
Delirium is characterized by:
- reduced thinking skills
- poor attention span
- abnormal speech patterns or content
Delirium often arises quickly, fades away within days or
weeks, and fluctuates in character.
develops more slowly than delirium, is usually permanent, and causes consistent
symptoms. Disorientation and short-term memory loss can be some of the early
signs of dementia.
Family members can play an important role in helping a
doctor diagnose delirium and dementia.
Disorientation can be a side effect of a number of drugs,
- prescription medications
Withdrawal from certain drugs can also cause disorientation.
The following physical disorders can cause disorientation:
An emergency situation can also cause distress or trigger
mental disorders and result in disorientation.
What should you do if you encounter someone who is disoriented?
You should seek medical help for someone who is
The following may be useful if a loved one is coping with
any type of disorientation, including delirium:
Keep track of their
medical history. Make sure that you have a list of all medications that
your loved one has taken. Your knowledge of their habits, hospital history, and
current symptoms can be vital in reaching a diagnosis.
Try to make
surroundings familiar. A change in location can cause disorientation.
Having objects that may remind your loved one of who they are may help orient
Stay close. Your
presence may provide reassurance and comfort. Your familiarity with the person
will also help the doctor determine what’s normal behavior.
If you encounter a stranger who is disoriented, you should
encourage them to seek medical help. Consider calling 911 if they’re in danger
of hurting themselves or others.
How is disorientation treated?
If you’re experiencing disorientation, your doctor can
suggest a treatment after diagnosing its cause. They may do several tests to
help diagnose what is causing your disorientation and any accompanying
symptoms. The treatment your doctor prescribes will depend on the underlying
If you take care of someone who is prone to a disoriented
state, their doctor may suggest ways for you to ease their disorientation. An
example is someone with Alzheimer’s disease. If you care for someone with
Alzheimer’s, you may want to consult the Alzheimer’s Association website for tips and
What is the outlook for disorientation?
Losing your orientation isn’t necessarily life-threatening. But
some of the illnesses that cause disorientation can be serious. There are many
conditions that can result in disorientation. This makes it important that you
seek medical attention and receive a proper diagnosis.
Your outlook depends on the underlying reason for your
disorientation. For example, conditions such as Alzheimer’s may cause lifelong
recurrences of disorientation. On the other hand, heat stroke may cause only