As we age, our immune systems tend to get weaker, making us more vulnerable to infections of all kinds. One of the most common infections in elderly people is a urinary tract (UTI) or bladder infection. A UTI can happen at any age, but there’s another thing that comes with advanced age that increases the risk. Bladder infections are more likely to occur in people who have trouble totally emptying their bladders. That’s because the longer urine sits in the bladder, the more time bacteria have to grow.
For several reasons, it’s usually more difficult for elderly people (men and women) to completely empty their bladders.
- Side effect of certain medications, e.g., antihistamines, tricyclic antidepressants and medicines to treat stomach and muscle cramps.
- Prostate problems
- Bladder prolapse after menopause
The usual symptoms of a urinary tract infection are:
- Difficulty urinating
- Increased frequency
- Increased urgency
- Blood in the urine
- Fever (sometimes)
- Abdominal pain (sometimes)
The problem is, many times elderly people don’t have such clear cut symptoms. If an elderly person also has dementia, it may be difficult or even impossible to communicate that they don’t feel well. That’s why it’s important to be pay attention to other possible signs of an infection.
- General weakness
- Malaise — just doesn’t seem to feel well
- Sudden or worsening incontinence
- Sudden change in behavior
That last bullet point — sudden change in behavior — is especially important to recognize and understand. If an elderly person suddenly shows signs of delirium — acts confused and disoriented — it could mean he/she has a urinary tract infection (or some other infection).
When someone is already confused and disoriented because of Alzheimer’s disease or another cause of dementia, it might be easy to think the dementia is simply progressing. Again, an infection might be the cause, so it’s important to have it checked out right away.
The difference between delirium and dementia
The symptoms may seem similar, and delirium is certainly common in people with dementia, but there is a key difference. Delirium is usually sudden and acute, whereas dementia happens more slowly and progressively.
Courtesy of Mayo Clinic, here are some differences between the symptoms of delirium and dementia
- The onset of delirium occurs within a short time, while dementia usually begins with relatively minor symptoms that gradually worsen over time.
- The inability to stay focused or maintain attention is significantly impaired with delirium. A person in the early stages of dementia remains generally alert.
- The appearance of delirium symptoms can fluctuate significantly and often throughout the day. While people with dementia have better and worse times of day, their memory and thinking skills stay at a fairly constant level during the course of a day.
What you can do
Anyone who cares for an elderly person with dementia, which includes our caregivers at Advantage Home Care, has to be aware of and sensitive to sudden changes in behavior, mood or personality. It’s easy to assume a change is simply another sign of the dementia, but too often the cause is actually a bladder infection. Caught early, it can usually be easily treated and symptoms, including delirium, go away. Untreated, the infection could spread and cause much more serious problems.
If you have a topic you’d like to know more about or think would be suitable for the Advantage Home Care Blog, please let us know. We are always looking for good ideas.
This blog is written by Diane Atwood, who also writes a health and wellness blog called Catching Health with Diane Atwood.
Originally posted Oct 16, 2013