Urinary tract infections (UTIs) and dementia

8. Delirium

UTIs can cause a significant and distressing change in someone’s behaviour that is commonly referred to as ‘acute confusional state’ or ‘delirium’. Delirium is a change in someone’s mental state and usually develops over one or two days. There are different types of delirium and symptoms may include agitation or restlessness, increased difficulty concentrating, hallucinations or delusions, or becoming unusually sleepy or withdrawn. Symptoms of delirium vary in severity (fluctuate) over the course of the day.

It is important that family and friends who know the person well seek medical help if they see a sudden change in behaviour, to ensure that an assessment takes place. If the delirium is due to a UTI, treatment with an appropriate course of antibiotics may help to lessen the symptoms of confusion.

It is important that if someone is very distressed or agitated they are offered support and reassurance to keep them safe. In some cases, a short-term treatment with antipsychotic drugs may be considered if non-drug approaches have been unsuccessful. For more information, see factsheet 408, Drugs used to relieve behavioural and psychological symptoms in dementia.

Delirium is a change in someone’s mental state and usually develops over one or two days. There are different types of delirium and symptoms may include agitation or restlessness, increased difficulty concentrating, hallucinations or delusions, or becoming unusually sleepy or withdrawn. Symptoms of delirium vary in severity (fluctuate) over the course of the day.