Confusion, Memory Loss, and Altered Alertness - Topic Overview
Alcohol and many prescription and nonprescription
medicines can cause confusion or decreased alertness.
These problems may develop from:
- Taking too much of a medicine (overmedicating) or taking medicines that may interact with each other.
Overuse of medicines may be the single biggest cause of memory loss or
confusion in older adults.
- Alcohol and medicine interactions. This
is a problem, especially for older adults, who may take many medicines at the
- Misusing or abusing a medicine or
- Drug intoxication or the effects of withdrawal.
Other causes of confusion or decreased alertness can
Conditions in the environment that can cause changes in the
level of consciousness include:
- Cold temperature exposure, leading to
- High temperature exposure,
- Hospitalization. This
especially affects older adults when their environment and routines are
- Decreased oxygen in the blood (hypoxia) from high
- Exposure to toxins (poisons), such as
Many times other symptoms are present, such as a fever, chest
pain, or the inability to walk or stand. It is important to look for and tell
your doctor about other symptoms you experience when confusion or decreased
alertness occurs. This can help your doctor determine the cause of your
A decrease in alertness may progress to
loss of consciousness. A person who loses
consciousness is not awake and is not aware of his or her surroundings. Fainting
(syncope) is a form of brief unconsciousness. Coma is a
deep, prolonged state of unconsciousness.
symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.