There’s a distinct connection between urinary tract infections (UTIs) and dementia in the elderly. While the symptoms normally associated with UTIs in younger people are more easily identifiable physical symptoms, they can be difficult to identify In older adults whose immune systems have already undergone significant changes. The effects of a UTI can appear as increased agitation, noticeable signs of confusion or disorientation, and even a general withdrawal.

The obvious problem with these symptoms for seniors is that they might well be associated with dementia itself rather than attributing it to the real cause, which is the UTI. This can lead to an even greater problem because if the UTI goes undetected and untreated for a prolonged period, it can infiltrate the bloodstream of the senior, at which point there is a potential for it to become life-threatening. Most home caregivers are aware of UTI symptoms and can react quickly when they are observed in a home care patient, but others should be aware as well, for times when home care is not being provided.

How do UTIs start?

When germs somehow get into the urethra and make their way up to the bladder and kidneys, a urinary tract infection occurs. These are four times more likely to occur in women than in men, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, due to shorter urethras, which makes it much easier for bacteria to reach the kidneys and the bladder.

Women who have already gone through menopause are at even greater risk because their bodies will then have a deficiency of estrogen, which is one of the prime defenses against bacteria growth and movement through the urethra. People who have kidney problems, diabetes, or a weakened immune system are also at significantly higher risk of contracting urinary tract infections.

As previously mentioned, diagnosing a UTI is considerably easier in young people, but in seniors, it generally takes some additional diagnostic methods in order to detect a UTI. Where infection is suspected, a physician may require a patient to take a urine test or an ultrasound exam, or possibly request a CAT scan and x-rays to confirm the presence of a UTI. Most urinary tract infections can be successfully treated with a program of antibiotics, after which there are no lingering effects for the person afflicted.

Can UTI’s bring on dementia?

By themselves, urinary tract infections do not trigger full-blown dementia in a senior, but they can exacerbate the existing symptoms of dementia or of Alzheimer’s disease that a patient might already have. In as little as a day or two, a UTI can trigger greater agitation and restlessness, delusional behavior, delirium, and hallucinations in an Alzheimer’s sufferer.

Urinary tract infections can also speed up the progression of either dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, which makes it essential for family members and caregivers around the senior citizen, to recognize the symptoms early and take preventive measures. The sooner the UTI can be diagnosed and treated, the less effect it will have on any pre-existing condition the senior may have had, and the better the chances will be that no further physical or emotional damage occurs.

Preventing UTI’s in dementia patients

One suggested precautionary measure to prevent a UTI is to encourage the senior to maintain regular fluid intake with the recommended amount being 6 to 8 classes each day. While that may cause some other inconvenience with bathroom visitations, those are preferable to any kind of infection. In fact, it’s also a good idea to encourage a senior loved one to make use of the bathroom every two or three hours anyway so waste is regularly flushed out.

It’s also very important to maintain good hygiene for seniors, with regular showers being a cornerstone of their daily routine. Lastly, it’s important to note any sudden changes in behavior, such as unexplained confusion, or seemingly spontaneous development of incontinence where none existed before. When in doubt, it’s always worth checking with the family physician so as to avoid more serious health problems.

Interested in learning how Family Resource Home Care can help with UTIs and dementia in the elderly? See our Personal Care Assistance (click here).

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