Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Helping someone with longer term confusion

4-minute read

Sometimes confusion can be a temporary phase and will pass. Sometimes confusion is long term and is due to a permanent condition, such as Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, stroke or brain injury.

What is confusion?

Confusion is a term that refers to a decline in cognitive ability, that is, our ability to think, learn and understand. A decline in cognitive ability is often associated with dementia. Symptoms of confusion include problems with short-term memory, difficulty carrying out tasks, poor attention span, unclear speech and difficulty in following a conversation.

If someone you know has confusion, there are ways you can help them.

Communication tips

  • If the person forgets who you are, always introduce yourself to them, no matter how well or how long you have known them. This can be distressing for you as a carer but will help the person you are looking after.
  • Talk to the person about current events.
  • Explain who other people are: 'This is your son, Jack'.
  • Help to orientate the person using daily events. For example, instead of saying 'He will be here at 2 o'clock, say 'He will be here after lunch'.

Tips for activities

Try to encourage peaceful and quiet activities that stimulate the mind, such as painting, playing cards or watching television and completing puzzles or quizzes. Encourage the person to remain physically active by walking and doing gentle exercise if possible, but also make sure they get plenty of rest and relaxation. Confusion can be worse at night if the person is overtired.

Personal care and diet

Make sure the person is treated with dignity and respect if they need additional help with going to the toilet or with personal hygiene tasks such as washing or getting dressed.

You can also help to ensure the person is eating nutritious and healthy meals, avoiding too much sugar, salt and processed foods.

Tips for their environment

  • Try to have a calm and peaceful environment where the person is not constantly distracted by noise or too much activity going on around them. The temperature of the room should ideally be around 21-23°C.
  • Keep lighting at a moderate level, not too bright and not too dull. Night time lighting may be needed to prevent falls or trips if the person is in unfamiliar surroundings.
  • Place a clock and a calendar near the person so they are reminded of the date and time.
  • Have a photograph album showing events from the person’s life can help.
  • If a person needs care away from their home and familiar surroundings, it can help to have objects that are familiar to them, for example a favourite blanket and photographs.


A person who is confused may be at risk from wandering — for example looking for a toilet or trying to find their way home.

Extra care should be taken to ensure that people who may have memory problems, particularly older people, are monitored to reduce the risk of wandering. This may include moving toilet facilities closer to the person or creating distractions to avoid boredom.

If you encounter someone who is wandering, be aware that they may be frightened, unable to communicate properly, and may have health problems that affect their understanding and their movement.

It is important to calm them down and show them they can trust you. Introduce yourself, offer help and talk to them respectfully. Try to understand their reason for wandering and see if you can contact family members or friends. Check they aren’t injured, hungry, thirsty or need the toilet.

Not sure what to do next?

If you are still concerned about your helping someone with longer term 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: September 2019

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Dementia and Sleep

How can we best understand dementia? Dementia causes a set of problems that are related to each other. These include memory loss, trouble communicating, confusion and difficulty with walking around. There might be difficulty with recognising people they know, even if they are close friends and family members. Although

Read more on Sleep Health Foundation website

Safety in and around the home | Dementia Australia

Dementia affects each person differently. However symptoms such as confusion, memory loss and disorientation are usually present, and problems with mobility and co-ordination may also affect safety. It is important that family, carers, friends and health professionals assist the person with dementia to feel and be as secure as possible. 

Read more on Dementia Australia website

Worried about your memory? | Dementia Australia


Read more on Dementia Australia website

Creutzfeldt - Jakob Disease

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) is a rare degenerative disease that affects brain tissue in humans.

Read more on Queensland Health website

Planning: early stages | Dementia Australia

Helping someone at the early stages of losing capacity Many of the people who are losing capacity have mild cognitive impairment or are in the early stage of dementia. While each person’s experience will be different, it will be a challenging and confronting time for most people. The person losing capacity may not be aware of this happening to them. They may be confused, resentful or angry about this being suggested. Alternatively, they could be aware of it happening and respond with a range of emotions – such as acceptance, depression, confusion, anger or grief.

Read more on Dementia Australia website

Sundowning | Dementia Australia

What is sundowning? People with dementia may become more confused, restless or insecure late in the afternoon or early evening. It can be worse after a move or a change in their routine. They may become more demanding, restless, upset, suspicious, disoriented and even see, hear or believe things that aren’t real, especially at night. Attention span and concentration can become even more limited. Some people may become more impulsive, responding to their own ideas of reality that may place them at risk. 

Read more on Dementia Australia website

Impact on everyone involved | Dementia Australia

Losing capacity When a person is losing or has lost capacity, it can be very challenging for both the person losing capacity and those who are supporting them. The person losing capacity may not accept their situation and may experience a range of emotions including resentment, anger, fear or grief. The person supporting them may initially be confused and impatient about the person’s inability to make decisions. Over time, they may have to take on many roles that they have not been used to.

Read more on Dementia Australia website

Delirium and dementia

This Q&A sheet provides information about what delirium is, and, how it relates to people with dementia.

Read more on Dementia Australia website

Dementia: what is it? -

Dementia affects thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday tasks. This article describes some early signs of dementia, who gets dementia and emphasises the importance of a timely medical diagnosis.

Read more on myDr website

About younger onset dementia | Younger Onset Dementia Hub

Younger onset dementia is dementia in people under 65. Learn what it is, how it can go unnoticed and how early diagnosis can improve your life. Read on.

Read more on Dementia Australia website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo