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Is It a UTI, or Dementia? What You Need to Know

Most of us, at one point or another in our lives, have contracted a urinary tract infection or “UTI” as they are more commonly called. They are uncomfortable for sure, causing pressure and pain. So, we drink plenty of water or cranberry juice and, if necessary, take medications to wipe out the infection. Then we go on our way.

For elderly adults, however, a UTI can do more than cause pressure and pain. A UTI can bring on behavior changes that leave a family member wondering what happened to bring on such a sudden change in mom’s behavior? Because a UTI, especially in an elderly person, can bring on confusion, delirium, restlessness and overall weakness and fatigue. That’s why those around them sometimes think it’s a sudden onset of dementia, even though dementia typically progresses more slowly in its early stages.

Many families aren’t aware of this phenomenon. In fact, the Alzheimer’s Association noted in an article that even professional caregivers in assisted living communities can be thrown off track when an elderly adult suddenly exhibits behavior that is disoriented and confused. Part of the problem is that a UTI may present few, if any, physical symptoms. Therefore, it is often the last thing considered when a behavior swing occurs. In an article on the topic of UTIs, the Alzheimer’s Association noted a post on their message board from a caregiver who wrote, “Our compromised elders, especially females often develop, "silent" urinary tract infections. These UTIs are called "silent" because they usually have no symptoms of pain, no burning, no odor, no frequency, etc. but there will often be profound changes in behaviors.”

When a UTI is contracted by an individual with dementia it can actually increase their dementia symptoms. And UTIs are very common in individuals with dementia as they often lack the body awareness to be diligent with their daily hygiene. So, as the disease progresses, they may not even realize they have a UTI. That’s why awareness is key. It is important for family caregivers to be proactive and take daily actions to reduce the chances of your loved one contracting a UTI. This can be accomplished by encouraging them to drink plenty of water each day and keeping their urinary/genital area clean. Cranberry juice is known to fight e. Coli, the culprit in over 90% of UTIs, but be mindful that it typically includes a high sugar content. Blueberries, oranges and probiotics can also help protect against UTIs.

Above all be cognizant of any dramatic behavioral changes in your loved one with dementia and reach out for help. Whether or not the cause is something as simple as a UTI, your family physician is in the best position to answer your questions and conduct any tests needed to make a proper assessment.

Most of us, at one point or another in our lives, have contracted a urinary tract infection or “UTI” as they are more commonly called. They are uncomfortable for sure, causing pressure and pain. So, we drink plenty of water or cranberry juice and, if necessary, take medications to wipe out the infection. Then we go on our way.

For elderly adults, however, a UTI can do more than cause pressure and pain. A UTI can bring on behavior changes that leave a family member wondering what happened to bring on such a sudden change in mom’s behavior? Because a UTI, especially in an elderly person, can bring on confusion, delirium, restlessness and overall weakness and fatigue. That’s why those around them sometimes think it’s a sudden onset of dementia, even though dementia typically progresses more slowly in its early stages.

Many families aren’t aware of this phenomenon. In fact, the Alzheimer’s Association noted in an article that even professional caregivers in assisted living communities can be thrown off track when an elderly adult suddenly exhibits behavior that is disoriented and confused. Part of the problem is that a UTI may present few, if any, physical symptoms. Therefore, it is often the last thing considered when a behavior swing occurs. In an article on the topic of UTIs, the Alzheimer’s Association noted a post on their message board from a caregiver who wrote, “Our compromised elders, especially females often develop, "silent" urinary tract infections. These UTIs are called "silent" because they usually have no symptoms of pain, no burning, no odor, no frequency, etc. but there will often be profound changes in behaviors.”

When a UTI is contracted by an individual with dementia it can actually increase their dementia symptoms. And UTIs are very common in individuals with dementia as they often lack the body awareness to be diligent with their daily hygiene. So, as the disease progresses, they may not even realize they have a UTI. That’s why awareness is key. It is important for family caregivers to be proactive and take daily actions to reduce the chances of your loved one contracting a UTI. This can be accomplished by encouraging them to drink plenty of water each day and keeping their urinary/genital area clean. Cranberry juice is known to fight e. Coli, the culprit in over 90% of UTIs, but be mindful that it typically includes a high sugar content. Blueberries, oranges and probiotics can also help protect against UTIs.

Above all be cognizant of any dramatic behavioral changes in your loved one with dementia and reach out for help. Whether or not the cause is something as simple as a UTI, your family physician is in the best position to answer your questions and conduct any tests needed to make a proper assessment.