Updated: 8/13/2019

Delirium vs. Major Neurocognitive Disorder

Review Topic
  • A 69-year-old male is brought to the ED by his daughter for an acute change in his mental status.  According to the daughter, three days ago he was fine, but when she visited him today he was barely responsive and when he did speak he did not make any sense.  On physical exam, you see a patient who is obtunded and not responsive to verbal stimuli though he is responsive to painful stimuli.  The patient is mildly febrile and has dry mucous membranes.  IV fluids are started, and blood levels of thiamine and B12 are sent as well as a CBC and CMP.
  • Acute onset change of consciousness with waxing and waning symptoms 
    • ↓ attention span
    • ↓ level of arousal
  • Characterized by
    • acute changes in mental status
    • disorganized thinking
    • hallucinations (often visual)
    • illusions
    • misperceptions
    • disturbance in sleep-wake cycle
    • cognitive dysfunction
    • abnormal EEG
  • Most common psychiatric illness on medical and surgical floors
    • may be caused by drugs with anticholinergic effects
    • often reversible
  • Treatment
    • immediate management
      • haloperidol
        • use only if at risk of hurting self or others
      • olanzapine 
    • treat the underlying cause
    • avoid physical restraints
  • A 69-year-old male is brought in by his daughter due to his "bad memory."  The daughter states that three years ago he began having trouble remembering incidental things such as names, phone numbers, and addresses, though he was fine paying his bills, shopping and cooking.  As time went on he began to struggle paying his bills on time.  More recently, his daughter has had to take over all his finances and has to cook for him as he is no longer able to do any of these things.  In addition, he can't remember his daughters name and refers to her as "some broad."
Major Neurocognitive Disorder (NCD)
  • Gradual loss in cognition
    • NO CHANGE in level of consciousness
    • memory loss is present
  • Characterized by
    • memory deficits
    • aphasia
    • apraxia
    • agnosia
    • loss of abstract thought
    • behavioral/personality changes
    • impaired judgment
    • no loss of alertness
    • ↑ incidence with age
    • normal EEG
  • Caused by
    • Alzheimer's disease
      • slow decline in memory and ability to take care of oneself
    • thrombosis/hemorrhage
      • can have acute onset
      • sudden decline in mental status
    • HIV
    • Pick's disease
      • change in personality + loss of memory
    • substance abuse
    • CJD
      • sudden, aggressive and often irreversible change in personality and loss of memory
  • Classification - made clinically, not by specific criteria
    • major NCD 
    • minor NCD
  • Depression may present as dementia in elderly patients
    • known as pseudodementia
      • patients with pseudodementia are concerned with memory loss
      • patients with real dementia tend to try and conceal their memory loss

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Lab Values
Blood, Plasma, Serum Reference Range
ALT 8-20 U/L
Amylase, serum 25-125 U/L
AST 8-20 U/L
Bilirubin, serum (adult) Total // Direct 0.1-1.0 mg/dL // 0.0-0.3 mg/dL
Calcium, serum (Ca2+) 8.4-10.2 mg/dL
Cholesterol, serum Rec: < 200 mg/dL
Cortisol, serum 0800 h: 5-23 μg/dL //1600 h:
3-15 μg/dL
2000 h: ≤ 50% of 0800 h
Creatine kinase, serum Male: 25-90 U/L
Female: 10-70 U/L
Creatinine, serum 0.6-1.2 mg/dL
Electrolytes, serum  
Sodium (Na+) 136-145 mEq/L
Chloride (Cl-) 95-105 mEq/L
Potassium (K+) 3.5-5.0 mEq/L
Bicarbonate (HCO3-) 22-28 mEq/L
Magnesium (Mg2+) 1.5-2.0 mEq/L
Estriol, total, serum (in pregnancy)  
24-28 wks // 32-36 wks 30-170 ng/mL // 60-280 ng/mL
28-32 wk // 36-40 wks 40-220 ng/mL // 80-350 ng/mL
Ferritin, serum Male: 15-200 ng/mL
Female: 12-150 ng/mL
Follicle-stimulating hormone, serum/plasma Male: 4-25 mIU/mL
Female: premenopause: 4-30 mIU/mL
midcycle peak: 10-90 mIU/mL
postmenopause: 40-250
pH 7.35-7.45
PCO2 33-45 mmHg
PO2 75-105 mmHg
Glucose, serum Fasting: 70-110 mg/dL
2-h postprandial:<120 mg/dL
Growth hormone - arginine stimulation Fasting: <5 ng/mL
Provocative stimuli: > 7ng/mL
Immunoglobulins, serum  
IgA 76-390 mg/dL
IgE 0-380 IU/mL
IgG 650-1500 mg/dL
IgM 40-345 mg/dL
Iron 50-170 μg/dL
Lactate dehydrogenase, serum 45-90 U/L
Luteinizing hormone, serum/plasma Male: 6-23 mIU/mL
Female: follicular phase: 5-30 mIU/mL
midcycle: 75-150 mIU/mL
postmenopause 30-200 mIU/mL
Osmolality, serum 275-295 mOsmol/kd H2O
Parathyroid hormone, serume, N-terminal 230-630 pg/mL
Phosphatase (alkaline), serum (p-NPP at 30° C) 20-70 U/L
Phosphorus (inorganic), serum 3.0-4.5 mg/dL
Prolactin, serum (hPRL) < 20 ng/mL
Proteins, serum  
Total (recumbent) 6.0-7.8 g/dL
Albumin 3.5-5.5 g/dL
Globulin 2.3-3.5 g/dL
Thyroid-stimulating hormone, serum or plasma .5-5.0 μU/mL
Thyroidal iodine (123I) uptake 8%-30% of administered dose/24h
Thyroxine (T4), serum 5-12 μg/dL
Triglycerides, serum 35-160 mg/dL
Triiodothyronine (T3), serum (RIA) 115-190 ng/dL
Triiodothyronine (T3) resin uptake 25%-35%
Urea nitrogen, serum 7-18 mg/dL
Uric acid, serum 3.0-8.2 mg/dL
Hematologic Reference Range
Bleeding time 2-7 minutes
Erythrocyte count Male: 4.3-5.9 million/mm3
Female: 3.5-5.5 million mm3
Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (Westergren) Male: 0-15 mm/h
Female: 0-20 mm/h
Hematocrit Male: 41%-53%
Female: 36%-46%
Hemoglobin A1c ≤ 6 %
Hemoglobin, blood Male: 13.5-17.5 g/dL
Female: 12.0-16.0 g/dL
Hemoglobin, plasma 1-4 mg/dL
Leukocyte count and differential  
Leukocyte count 4,500-11,000/mm3
Segmented neutrophils 54%-62%
Bands 3%-5%
Eosinophils 1%-3%
Basophils 0%-0.75%
Lymphocytes 25%-33%
Monocytes 3%-7%
Mean corpuscular hemoglobin 25.4-34.6 pg/cell
Mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration 31%-36% Hb/cell
Mean corpuscular volume 80-100 μm3
Partial thromboplastin time (activated) 25-40 seconds
Platelet count 150,000-400,000/mm3
Prothrombin time 11-15 seconds
Reticulocyte count 0.5%-1.5% of red cells
Thrombin time < 2 seconds deviation from control
Plasma Male: 25-43 mL/kg
Female: 28-45 mL/kg
Red cell Male: 20-36 mL/kg
Female: 19-31 mL/kg
Cerebrospinal Fluid Reference Range
Cell count 0-5/mm3
Chloride 118-132 mEq/L
Gamma globulin 3%-12% total proteins
Glucose 40-70 mg/dL
Pressure 70-180 mm H2O
Proteins, total < 40 mg/dL
Sweat Reference Range
Chloride 0-35 mmol/L
Calcium 100-300 mg/24 h
Chloride Varies with intake
Creatinine clearance Male: 97-137 mL/min
Female: 88-128 mL/min
Estriol, total (in pregnancy)  
30 wks 6-18 mg/24 h
35 wks 9-28 mg/24 h
40 wks 13-42 mg/24 h
17-Hydroxycorticosteroids Male: 3.0-10.0 mg/24 h
Female: 2.0-8.0 mg/24 h
17-Ketosteroids, total Male: 8-20 mg/24 h
Female: 6-15 mg/24 h
Osmolality 50-1400 mOsmol/kg H2O
Oxalate 8-40 μg/mL
Potassium Varies with diet
Proteins, total < 150 mg/24 h
Sodium Varies with diet
Uric acid Varies with diet
Body Mass Index (BMI) Adult: 19-25 kg/m2

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(M2.PY.87) You are called to the bedside of a 75-year-old woman, who is post-op day 4 from a right total hip replacement. The patient appears agitated; she is trying to pull out her IV, and for the past 4 hours she has been accusing the nursing staff of trying to poison her. Her family notes that this behavior is completely different from her baseline; she has not shown any signs of memory loss or behavioral changes at home prior to the surgery. You note that she still has an indwelling catheter. She continues on an opioid-based pain regimen. All of the following are potential contributors to the patient’s presentation EXCEPT: Review Topic

QID: 105757









Amyloid accumulation




Volume depletion




Electrolyte abnormalities




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