Medical Causes of Confusion and Treatment

confused man

francesco/Getty Images

A sudden onset of confusion means that something is potentially wrong with the brain. Almost all conditions that affect the brain are life-threatening. In the case of sudden confusion, always call 911 immediately.

How to Tell if Someone Is Confused

Paramedics usually use a very basic 3- or 4-question test to see if you are confused or not. They're looking for the brain to be able to recognize person, place, time, and event. Some paramedics leave out the event question.

  1. Person: What's your name?
  2. Place: Where are we right now?
  3. Time: What time (or day or month) is it right now?
  4. Event: What happened?

Depending on how a patient answers these questions, you can determine how confused he or she is. In the best case scenario, the patient will be oriented and able to answer all questions appropriately.

If the patient is not oriented—confused, in other words—paramedics want to know just how disoriented the patient is. They do that based on which questions the patient can answer correctly.

If the patient is able to tell you where he is and what his name is, that's oriented to person and place only. Sometimes a healthcare professional might say the patient is oriented x2 (times two), but then you can't be sure which questions the patient can answer and which ones he can't. Knowing the specifics may make a difference in the patient's care.

Medical Causes

There are several medical causes of confusion. One of the easiest ways to remember these causes is to use the mnemonic AEIOU TIPS:

Confusion or Eccentricity?

The biggest mistake new healthcare providers or lay rescuers make is to mix up eccentricity, delusion, or even psychosis with confusion. What makes confusion special is that even if you're a little odd, you still remember who you are, where you are, approximately what time it is, and what you're doing.


There is no specific treatment for confusion. Treatment depends on finding a solution for the underlying cause of the confusion.

Was this page helpful?