Urinary Tract Infections in Seniors with Dementia
Suffering from a urinary tract infection at any age is a painful and unpleasant experience. But for seniors — and especially those with dementia — UTIs can result in additional, serious health concerns.Seniors may be more susceptible to infections in general due to reduced immune function. Certain health conditions — including diabetes, enlarged prostate, kidney stones, urinary catheter use, immobility and surgery involving areas near the bladder — can increase the likelihood of developing a UTI.
Infections of the urinary tract commonly affect seniors of both genders. Left untreated, a UTI can cause either chronic or acute kidney infections; permanent kidney damage and kidney failure can result. In addition, UTIs can cause the dangerous bloodstream infection known as sepsis.
Connection with Dementia
In many cases, seniors suffering from UTIs do not develop fever, chills and pain as younger patients might; older individuals’ immune systems sometimes do not respond to infection in the same way. And some seniors simply may not express to their caregivers that they feel poorly.
Instead of pain and fever, symptoms of a UTI for some seniors include sudden behavioral changes like agitation, withdrawal and confusion — also known as delirium. For seniors who already suffer from dementia, the behavioral symptoms may appear to be part of the existing condition. As a result, underlying urinary tract infections often go undiagnosed in seniors, especially among those who live alone. Without treatment, a UTI can spread and become an extremely dangerous condition in the body.
Symptoms and Treatment of UTIs
Symptoms of urinary tract infections in seniors can include:
- Painful or burning sensation when urinating.
- A feeling of urgency to urinate.
- Inability to fully urinate.
- Pain in the lower abdomen.
- A mild fever.
- Urine that is cloudy, contains blood or smells bad.
- Sudden, acute confusion or delirium that develops within a day or two.
In addition, certain symptoms — including a high fever, vomiting or nausea, chills or shaking, and pain — may indicate an upper UTI, which is more serious and can result in bacteria in the blood.
Treatment of a UTI typically includes a course of antibiotics and pain relievers. To diagnose the condition, your loved one’s doctor may take a urine culture, which will be sent to a lab to identify the bacteria in the urine. In some cases, blood tests, ultrasounds and other diagnostics also may be used.
If you care for a senior who is at risk of urinary tract infections, there are steps you can take to prevent an initial infection or recurrences. Encourage your loved one to drink plenty of water, with a goal of six to eight glasses daily. In addition, ensure that the senior urinates every several hours. Proper hygiene — including a shower every day — also is important.
Take note of any changes in behavior, including sudden confusion or incontinence. Falls also can be a sign that a senior is suffering from a UTI. If you notice any symptoms, consult with your loved one’s doctor.
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