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When a Senior with a UTI Looks Like a Senior with Dementia

By HERWriter
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When a Senior Who Has a UTI Looks Like a Senior with Dementia Syda Productions/Fotolia

When you see your elderly father beginning to suffer delusions that nothing can shake, or when your previously affectionate mother withdraws into paranoia, your first thing you think of may not involve the urinary system.

But the scenario of malfunctioning urinary tract and brain is actually a surprisingly common dynamic for older folks. The fact is, a UTI can cause cognitive and behavioral problems in people who are seniors, or who suffer from dementia.

Women are four times more susceptible to urinary tract infection than men, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

What a UTI Does to the Urinary System

The urinary system comprises the bladder, kidneys, ureters and urethra. Most UTIs happen in the bladder and urethra which are the lower urinary tract. A urinary tract infection begins with the entry of bacteria into the urinary tract via the urethra.

Bacteria can multiply in the bladder. Unless treatment is begun, the infection can spread to the kidneys in the form of acute or chronic infection. The kidneys can be permanently damaged, possibly to the point of kidney failure. From there, sepsis which is a dangerous infection of the bloodstream, can develop.

Under normal circumstances, physical symptoms such as pain upon urination, increased frequency and urgency to urinate, pain in the lower abdomen, one-sided back pain, chills and fever signal a UTI. A UTI needs to be treated with antibiotics.

What a UTI Can Do to Seniors with Dementia

But for some of the elderly, having a UTI can lead to agitation, mental confusion and withdrawal that is not their usual pattern. A senior who has dementia can experience a spike in dementia symptoms that are actually caused by their urinary tract infection.

Not only can these cognitive and behavioral symptoms increase, but without treatment, a UTI can eventually hit the bloodstream, and in severe cases can lead to death.

An elderly person with dementia who also has a UTI can within 48 hours suffer delirium, which may combine agitation, delusions, hallucinations and restlessness. To the concerned observer, it can seem like the senior's dementia has become much more severe.

And while a UTI can make dementia worse, if it's caught and treated in time, this can be avoided.

Seniors can experience a unique set of symptoms because their immune systems have weakened with age and UTIs weigh heavily on the frail immune system. If the UTI is piggybacking on one or more other health problems, the breakdown of the immune system becomes more severe.

In addition, the elderly may develop bacteria in their urine, particularly if they are seniors who use a catheter, or who live in senior care homes.

Warning Signs of a Senior's UTI

- Agitation

- Back pain

- Burning urination

- Cloudy, odorous, bright pink or cola-colored urine

- Confusion

- Dizziness

- Extreme fatigue

- Falling

- Hallucinations

- Impaired motor skills

- Sudden onset of urinary incontinence

- Suddenly unable to do everyday things

Treatment for a Senior's UTI

Treatment for an elderly person's UTI involves a urine sample being sent by the doctor to a lab for testing. The lab will determine what type of bacteria is the problem, and what antibiotic will be most effective. This treatment can clear up a UTI, and the dementia-like delirium and other symptoms.


The Connection Between UTIs and Dementia. Alzheimers.net. Retrieved Oct. 26, 2015.

Urinary Tract Infections and People with Alzheimer's Disease or Dementia. Disabled-world.com. Retrieved Oct. 26, 2015.

Urinary Tract Infections in the Elderly. Agingcare.com. Retrieved Oct. 26, 2015.

Visit Jody's website at http://www.ncubator.ca

Reviewed October 27, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.