If an older loved one shows the signs of dementia, how are they behaving? The usual symptoms include:
- Memory loss
- Difficulty planning or solving basic problems
- Difficulty in doing familiar tasks
- Being confused about time or places
- Challenges understanding what they see
- Writing or speaking problems
- Poor judgment
- Changes in mood or personality
- You can’t find things or constantly misplacing items
These go beyond misplacing your keys or walking into a room and forgetting why you are there.
These are noticeable changes in the patterns of behavior.
When an elderly friend or family member has any of these symptoms, don’t automatically think it’s dementia or Alzheimer’s…first rule out a urinary tract infection.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the sudden changes in behavior listed above often manifest when an elderly person is having a urinary tract infection (UTI).
When younger people get UTI’s, they often experience distinct physical symptoms.
Usually painful urination, increased need to pee frequently, pain in the lower abdomen or back, and even fever and chills.
But this may not happen in the elderly.
And if not treated it could turn into a life-threatening illness.
A UTI is four times more likely to happen in women than men. UTIs occur when germs get into the urethra and travel to the bladder and kidneys.
UTIs can make the signs of dementia worse because of the agitation associated with the pain and discomfort.
The technical term for sudden and severe confusion is called a “delirium.” Agitation and withdrawal may also signal delirium.
But even those without dementia, the sudden mood change can cause people to miss the UTI because they are more concerned about the personality change.
The Alzheimer’s Association says it is a myth that cognitive function automatically gets worse as a person gets older.
It is not something we have to get used to, it is instead a possible symptom of an underlying problem and needs to be looked into.
But don’t assume it’s dementia, it might just be a reaction to a UTI.
But if there is already dementia and a sudden worsening of symptoms, the UTI possibility should not be ignored.
Thankfully UTIs can be treated quickly and the pain alleviated with the correct antibiotics. It is fairly easy to test for a UTI with a urine sample.
It highlights the need to take certain steps to help prevent UTIs in the first place.
- Fluid intake. Be sure to monitor how much people are drinking. Dehydration can create the right environment for a UTI to get started.
- Make sure seniors get to the bathroom every few hours.
- Daily showers help.
It is natural for caregivers to be distressed when a senior with dementia suddenly becomes more agitated, but this could just be a signal of other issues.
The rapid onset of symptoms makes the UTI a bigger probable underlying cause.
A UTI can take two days to set in, so the agitation and personality changes will probably start as the infection progresses.
No one is completely sure why UTIs and dementia seem to be linked, but the problems with ensuring hydration and daily hygiene become a greater challenge with those with cognitive problems.
While there is an automatic assumption that most sudden behavioral changes are problems with medication, there may be other issues that should be addressed.
So, when signs of a delirium show up, this should be a signal for caregivers to seek medical help and either rule out or confirm a urinary tract infection as the underlying cause.