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Confusion can be associated with growing older.

Confusion can be associated with growing older.
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2-minute read

Being confused can be stressful and frightening for a person, particularly if they are unaware of what’s going on around them.

Confusion can be the sign of a serious medical condition. Call triple zero (000) and ask for advice if:

  • the confusion has come on suddenly
  • your symptoms get worse
  • you develop new symptoms
  • you have other signs of illness like a fever
  • your skin or lips are turning blue
  • you become increasingly concerned

What is confusion?

Being confused can mean that a person is:

  • unable to think clearly
  • uncertain what is happening around them
  • unsure what day or what time it is

What causes confusion?

Confusion, or being confused, is often associated with growing older.

However, this is not always the case. Sudden confusion, also known as delirium, can be caused by a number of other factors:

  • drinking too much alcohol
  • side-effects of some medicines
  • using some recreational (illegal) drugs
  • taking too much medicine or drugs (an overdose)
  • lack of oxygen to the brain (ie from asthma, heart or lung problems)
  • head injury or concussion
  • poisoning
  • lack of sleep
  • some mental health conditions
  • an infection in the body, especially among older people
  • a stroke or a mini-stroke (TIA)
  • low blood sugar
  • complications of diabetes
  • shock
  • an infection

Some medical conditions can cause long-term confusion. These include a stroke, epilepsy or seizures, poor kidney function, Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.

If you suspect any of these conditions it’s important that you seek medical advice.

What are the symptoms of confusion?

The symptoms of confusion may come on quickly or develop over time (more so in older people) and can range from fairly mild to severe. They include:

  • frustration
  • aggression
  • unusual behaviour or mood swings
  • anxiety

While it’s important to find out the cause of the confusion, the information in the 'Confusion treatments' section may be helpful to help ease symptoms.

Not sure what to do next?

If you are still concerned about your confusion, why not use healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: October 2019

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