Confusion, of a pathological degree, usually refers to loss of orientation (ability to place oneself correctly in the world by time, location, and personal identity) and often memory (ability to correctly recall previous events or learn new material). Confusion as such is not synonymous with inability to focus attention, although severe inability to focus attention can cause, or greatly contribute to, confusion. Together, confusion and inability to focus attention (both of which affect judgment) are the twin symptoms of a loss or lack of normal brain function (mentation).
The milder degrees of confusion as pathological symptoms, are relative to previous function. Thus (for example) a mathematician confused about manipulation of simple fractions, may be showing pathology which would not be diagnosable in a person without training in this area. Thus, as with the case of delirium, the minor degrees of pathological confusion cannot be diagnosed without knowledge of a person's "baseline", or normal, level of mental functioning.
Confusion may result from a relatively sudden brain dysfunction (see delirium). It may also result from chronic organic brain pathologies such as dementia. In either case, confusion is usually associated with some degree of loss of ability to focus attention, but (as noted) the association is not invariable, especially for lesser degrees of impairment.
Many health problems may cause the syndromes of delirium or dementia. These syndromes may also occur together, and both of them usually include the symptom of confusion. Since mental function is extremely sensitive to health, the appearance of either a new confused state, or a new loss of ability to focus attention (delirium), may indicate that a new physical or mental illness has appeared, or that a chronic physical or mental illness has progressed (become more severe).
Fever, weakness, and mental confusion in an elderly woman: a second trip to the emergency department within 24 hours revealed a worsening of her symptoms.
Jan 01, 2007; CASE #1 Mrs. N, 87 years old, was brought to the emergency department (ED) after demonstrating a lack of responsiveness,...
Wrestlers' Quick Weight Loss May Cause Mental Confusion; Loss of 4% or more of body mass could affect decision-making, researchers say.(Report)(Brief article)
Apr 18, 2011; MONDAY, April 18 (HealthDay News) -- Rapid weight loss in the days before a wrestling match can increase confusion but has no...