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Can a UTI be Mistaken for Dementia?

Can UTI be mistaken for Dementia

Key Summary

A urinary tract infection (UTI) can affect seniors physically and mentally, especially those living with dementia. Look for signs such as confusion. Learn more.

Seniors and those living with Alzheimer's or dementia who experience a urinary tract infection (UTI) are far more susceptible to increased symptoms affecting the body and brain. UTIs can affect the elderly differently than younger people, causing sudden confusion and delirium, which can be mistaken for dementia, making it harder to detect and treat dementia.  Understanding the exact condition at early stages is important, since Alzheimer's and dementia are likely to require specialized care.

Understanding the possible symptoms of a urinary tract infection in the elderly is essential, especially for helping seniors who are unable to express their feelings. This article will discuss why a UTI causes altered mental status, how long it takes to go away, common signs of a UTI to look for, and how UTIs affect seniors with dementia. 

Why Does a UTI Cause Altered Mental Status?

For anyone with a UTI, bacteria moving through the urinary tract can lead to an infection in the bladder, a condition known as “cystitis.” If left untreated, it can go to the kidneys, a condition known as “pyelonephritis.” 

Older adults are affected not only physically but mentally by a UTI, as symptoms of the body fighting the infection can appear as delirium. The body counteracts the infection, causing inflammation and stress hormone production. Inflammation and hormones can dramatically affect seniors' brains, resulting in signs of confusion and delirium.  

A senior may also experience a change in behavior, such as increased agitation, withdrawal, or even aggression when they have a UTI. It is crucial to be aware of these symptoms in people with dementia, as an infection could speed up the progression of the disease. If your loved one has dementia and you believe they are showing signs of a UTI, they must go to the doctor as soon as possible for potential treatment. 

How Long Does It Take for Confusion from a UTI to Go Away?

Fortunately, the temporary delusion and confusion caused by a UTI will go away once your loved one receives treatment. Most likely, antibiotics will be prescribed on a short-term basis (generally a week duration), or in some instances, if your loved one is experiencing chronic and frequent UTIs, a longer-term dosage may be recommended. Infections will vary in severity and can take anywhere from a day to several weeks for the UTI —and subsequent confusion—to clear up.

What is Commonly the First Sign of a Urinary Tract Infection in the Elderly? 

As mentioned, a change in behavior like confusion may be the first and sometimes only indication a caregiver or loved one will have if their senior has a UTI. For the elderly, it can be challenging to communicate how they feel or describe their symptoms. Also, seniors with a slower or suppressed immune response may not show the typical signs, such as frequent or burning urination, a fever, chills, and more. 

How UTIs Affect People with Dementia

People with dementia and a urinary tract infection will show similar signs of confusion, irritation, and disorientation, sometimes described as brain or memory fog. A UTI for seniors living with dementia can also worsen their dementia symptoms, lead to changes in appetite and regular sleep patterns, and an overall diminishing ability to function and well-being. 

According to the Alzheimer's Society, a UTI can cause distressing behavior changes such as delirium for the elderly with Alzheimer's or dementia. These symptoms of delirium can appear within a day or two and vary from slight restlessness to hallucinations. If left untreated, a UTI can worsen the progression of dementia. 

Understanding how your loved one can avoid risking infection and how to recognize a UTI will help you keep them safe and healthy. Read about many other ways to help your senior flourish in our next article, "How to Improve Quality of Life for Seniors.

Find a Senior Care Community Near You 

A UTI can wreak havoc on a senior's physical and mental state. With a range of potential symptoms, noticeable to a caregiver or not, diagnosis and treatment are essential. You will have peace of mind knowing that once treatment is received, your loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia should return to their baseline and not have additional lasting problems.

Senior communities tailor their care to individual needs and have trained professionals specialized in recognizing symptoms of a UTI. They also help older adults limit the risks of UTIs with best living practices. Referah's Family Connection Agents are here to help guide you or your loved one through the senior care decision making process. We work closely with seniors and their families in communities across the country. Find professional senior care and support near you!  

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