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Is It the Disease or Something Else?

Is It the Disease or Something Else?

Caregivers are encouraged to contact a health care professional if they notice sudden behavioural changes in the person with dementia.

When behavioural changes occur in a person with dementia, you may think to yourself, “That must be the disease.”  While sometimes that may be the case, on occasion there may be an underlying medical reason for behavioural changes.  If the difference in behaviour or presentation is sudden, then it is advisable to seek immediate medical attention. Infections, if gone untreated, can lead to delirium, which is treated as a medical emergency.

Many times the changes in behaviour can be from a urinary tract infection (UTI) and can be easily diagnosed and treated.

Please seek immediate medical attention if the individual displays any of the symptoms of delirium below:

  • Change in awareness, including an inability to stay focused
  • Increased difficulty communicating or a change in their usual way of speaking
  • Hyperactivity, including increased restlessness, pacing, rapid mood changes
  • Hypoactivity, including inactivity, abnormal drowsiness, withdrawal
  • Hallucinations, increased fears or paranoia
  • Increased irritability
  • Personality changes

Although some of the changes listed above can develop gradually over the course of the disease, the important thing to remember is that you know your individual best and can notice the sudden onset of these symptoms. Dementia is a progressive decline of cognitive ability, whereas delirium develops within a short time frame and is an acute, sudden change.

Staff are available to provide more information for day program clients who may be exhibiting sudden changes in behaviour. Our nursing staff can also perform a preliminary urine test to determine if the person with dementia has a UTI and follow up with a physician if required.

If you observe these sudden changes and suspect that the person may have an underlying infection or medical issue causing these changes, please consult your physician.

Sue Rumble is a Registered Nurse at McCormick Dementia Services.