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  • Melrose Meadows

Dazed And Confused: Is It Dementia, Or A UTI?

Lisa's mother, Eileen, lives alone, but Lisa and her siblings check in daily. Eileen seemed confused during their last two conversations and couldn't follow the conversation. She also complained of not sleeping well. Lisa started to worry about her mother's cognition. Could it be dementia?

Her mother looked glassy-eyed and sick a day later, so Lisa took Eileen to urgent care. The practitioner ordered a urinalysis which indicated that Eileen had a urinary tract infection, which they would treat with an antibiotic. Three months later, Lisa noticed the same confusion, but she knew to check with her mom about other symptoms: Had Eileen been feeling tired, urinating frequently, or feeling pain in her low back? She also watched for signs of agitation or restlessness, common in people with UTIs.

What’s a UTI?

A UTI, or urinary tract infection, occurs when bacteria enter the urethra and the immune system fails to mount an adequate response, leading to an infection that affects the bladder and kidneys. UTIs are common in older people, and more women than men suffer from UTIs because women's urethras are shorter. According to one study, one-third of all infections in nursing homes are due to UTIs.

How are they different for older people?

UTI symptoms are not always the same in older people. While younger patients might go to the doctor upon experiencing frequent urges to urinate or a burning sensation upon urination, older folks might have completely different symptoms.

The first symptoms of a UTI in older people are often behavioral. Confusion and other sudden cognitive changes are common first signs of UTIs in older adults.

Could it be a UTI? Warning signs to look for in older people:


· Confusion

· Loss of energy

· Agitation

· Delusions

· Sudden memory loss

· Restlessness

· Any significant change in usual demeanor


· Frequency

· Urgency

· Abdominal discomfort or pain

· Low back pain

· New Incontinence

· Cloudy urine

· Foul-smelling urine

· Fever

· General lethargy

Keep UTIs at Bay: Treatment, Intervention, and Prevention

If you suspect that your loved one has a UTI, you should visit the doctor without delay. Your medical team will request a urinalysis and sometimes a culture before prescribing an antibiotic to fight the infection. Getting help early is the key to a full recovery. Wait too long to seek care, and a UTI could affect the kidneys, which could have serious consequences.

To catch a potential problem early, keep an eye out for early signs of a UTI. Infections are common, so keep a record of your loved one's symptoms if they occur again.

Keep home test strips on hand. Home test strips are available at drug stores and are easy to use. When calling for UTI treatment, remember to include your home test strip results.

Encourage better hydration, as older people can lose their sense of thirst. Offer water more frequently, add other flavors to the water, or use a smaller glass to encourage hydration.

Being aware of and prepared for a UTI can help caregivers catch signs early and prevent possible serious consequences. Now that Lisa knows to watch her mother's behavior for symptoms of a possible UTI, she's also more diligent in helping her mom stay hydrated. She purchased some flavored waters for her mother to keep in the refrigerator and supplied her with a thermal cup to keep drinks cold throughout the day. She also stocks the house with test strips so she and her mom will be able to catch any UTIs before they become serious. They are happy to report that Eileen has been symptom free for the past six months. “If I had known what was causing Mom’s confusion, we could have addressed the issue at two days sooner,” said Eileen. “Now that we’re aware that Mom is prone to UTIs, we can prevent them before they can happen, and catch them before they can cause any more problems.”

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