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. As you age, UTIs may affect you differently. For seniors, it can be real a gray area when urinary tract infections and confusion first appear: Is the UTI alone to blame, or is this possibly a foreshadowing of signs of dementia?
When a senior starts acting confused or disoriented, it’s not always a sign of dementia – especially if the change is sudden. Alzheimer’s and other dementias usually take several years to become noticeable seniors are the most likely group of people to have a UTI. They’re also the group that’s least likely to have the usual symptoms like pain during urination, fever, or a frequent urge to go. Instead, many caregivers find out their older adults have a UTI because there’s a sudden change in behavior. Someone who suddenly can’t do something they could a week ago might have a UTI. The infection puts a lot of stress on a senior’s immune system. That causes the changes in behavior, sometimes called delirium. Symptoms can include agitation, restlessness, difficulty concentrating, hallucinations, delusions, becoming unusually sleepy, or withdrawn.
You can take steps to reduce the risk of UTIs and prevent their complications. Here are some tips to follow for yourself or family members:
- Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of fluid, especially water.
- Try cranberry juice. Some research supports drinking cranberry juice as an anti-UTI remedy, while other studies are inconclusive.
- Watch for symptoms. In addition to changes in bathroom patterns and in the urine itself, follow up on more subtle signs of a possible UTI or other infections. With increased confusion, weakness or fatigue, or a fall, seek an evaluation sooner rather than later.
- Keep up with hygiene. Promoting good hygiene is a common-sense measure, but it can be an ongoing challenge for caregivers. Hygiene is not always a factor in UTI development or prevention but may contribute.
If your older adult suddenly starts acting strangely, take them to the doctor to get checked out right away. UTIs can be detected with simple blood tests or with a urine sample. If it’s a simple UTI and is caught early, taking antibiotics usually clears up the infection. Once the infection is gone, those scary behavior changes will start to disappear too.