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.