Urinary tract infections and dementia

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are a type of infection common among older people. If a person with a memory impairment or dementia has a UTI, this can cause sudden and severe confusion known as ‘delirium’.

Other effects of a urinary tract infection (UTI)

If the person has a sudden and unexplained change in their behaviour, such as increased confusion, agitation, or withdrawal, this may be because of a UTI.

These pages explain what a UTI is, the different types of UTIs, their symptoms and treatments, and gives tips on how they may be prevented.

What is a urinary tract infection?

A urinary tract infection is usually caused by bacteria entering the urinary tract via the urethra – the tube that allows the passage of urine from the bladder to outside the body.

The bacteria can then move upwards through the urinary tract, infecting the bladder (a condition known as cystitis) and sometimes the kidneys (a condition known as pyelonephritis).

Who is affected by UTIs and how are they treated?

Women are more commonly affected by them than men. Around half of women will need treatment for at least one UTI during their lifetime.

If treated with the right antibiotics, UTIs normally cause no further problems and the infection soon passes. Though complications are uncommon, they can be serious and include kidney damage and blood poisoning, which can be fatal.

Urinary tract infections and dementia

UTIs can cause sudden confusion (also known as delirium) in older people and people with dementia. If the person has a sudden and unexplained change in their behaviour, such as increased confusion, agitation, or withdrawal, this may be because of a UTI.

The person may not be able to communicate how they feel, therefore it is helpful to be familiar with the symptoms of UTIs and seek medical help to ensure they get the correct treatment.

It is also important to be aware that any infection could speed up the progression of dementia and so all infections should be identified and treated quickly.

UTIs and delirium

UTIs in someone with dementia can cause a significant and distressing change in someone’s behaviour, commonly referred to as ‘acute confusional state’ or ‘delirium’.

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