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The Connection Between UTIs and Dementia

UTIs and Dementia

Alissa Sauer

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is painful and worrisome in a healthy person, but when that person is a senior with dementia, the effects of a UTI can be even more concerning. UTIs tend to affect people with dementia differently, manifesting symptoms in behavior changes, rather than the typical physical symptoms. Knowing how UTIs affect seniors with dementia differently can help you help your loved one receive earlier treatment before the infection spreads and leads to more serious health consequences.

What Are UTIs?

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are a common infection among seniors. They are usually caused by bacteria entering the urinary tract via the urethra. The bacteria then moves backward through the urinary tract and infecting the bladder and, if undetected, may infect the kidneys. Women are more affected by UTIs than men and nearly 50% of women will require treatment for at least one UTI in her lifetime.

Symptoms of UTIs in Seniors with Dementia

A person with dementia may experience the common physical painful symptoms as a result of a UTI. These include, 

  • A burning feeling when urinating
  • An intense and frequent urge to urinate
  • Cloudy, dark, or bloody urine
  • Tiredness
  • Shakiness
  • Fever or chills

However, because of word-finding difficulty, that person may have trouble articulating how he or she is feeling. More often, people with dementia will experience more behavioral symptoms than physical ones. In people with dementia, UTIs can cause sudden confusion, or delirium, in someone with dementia. This can manifest itself as increased confusion, agitation, or withdrawal. If the infection goes undetected, it can spread to the kidneys or bloodstream and become life-threatening.

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Other symptoms of a UTI in a person with dementia include,

  • An increase in falls
  • Changes in behavior such as increased aggression
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • An increase in confusion and disorientation
  • An overall decline in functioning not explained by another condition that arises suddenly

Treating UTIs in Seniors with Dementia

The first step to being treated for a UTI, or any infection, is a correct diagnosis. Nearly 30% – 40% of seniors with a serious infection do not have a fever because of a weakened immune system’s inability to respond to the infection. As the infection spreads into the bloodstream and crosses the blood-brain barrier, confusion and other cognitive impairments can occur. This can cause a cognitively healthy person to be diagnosed with dementia, letting the infection continue and resulting in severe health consequences.

If you suspect a loved one has a UTI, see a medical professional immediately. A simple urine test will be able to identify an infection. Doctors may also use an ultrasound exam, X-rays, or a CAT scan to diagnose a UTI. Antibiotics are the most common treatment method for UTIs.

How To Prevent UTIs

To help your senior loved one minimize his or her risk of developing a UTI, take these precautions:

  • Encourage your loved one to increase fluid intake, at least 6-8 glasses of water daily
  • Monitor bathroom usage to ensure regular trips and quickly note any abnormalities
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol intake
  • Ensure good personal hygiene, including daily showers

Has your loved one with dementia had a UTI? How did it affect him or her? How did you determine the presence of an infection? Share your experiences with us in the comments below.

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