Is It Dementia or UTI? Symptoms to Look for in Older Adults

Most people who get a urinary tract infection (UTI) feel pain or burning when they pee. They may feel a frequent and strong urge to pee but may not be able to go. They also may feel pain in their lower abdomen, back or side. But older adults may show different, seemingly unrelated signs when they have a UTI. This is important to know, especially if you have an older parent or loved one in a nursing home or assisted living or if you’re taking care of an elderly adult at home.

Dementia and UTIs

Because our body, our immune system, the way we respond to infection and our ability to sense or feel certain things change as we get older, senior adults may have different symptoms when they have a UTI. In fact, you may at first think your parent or loved one has dementia.

Signs of a UTI in older adults can include increased:

  • Agitation or aggression

  • Confusion or withdrawal

  • Dizziness and decline in motor skills

If your parent or loved one already has dementia, it can be even harder to tell if their dementia symptoms are getting worse or if they have a UTI. This can be dangerous for older adults because if a UTI is not treated, the infection can spread, cause other complications, and even become life-threatening.

The key is to note if there is any sudden change in mental status, mood or ability. If so, bring this to the doctor’s attention immediately and ask whether it could be a UTI. Prevention and good hygiene habits are also important.

Preventing UTIs in Older Adults

Women are more likely to get UTIs than men, which is important to know so you know to stay aware of sudden changes in behavior or the appearance of other UTI symptoms. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, at least 40 to 60 percent of women develop a UTI during their lifetime, and 1 in 4 women is likely to have a repeat infection. Not only do women have a shorter urethra, making it easy for bacteria to get into the bladder, post-menopausal women face a higher risk of UTI because they have less estrogen to help prevent the growth of bacteria in the urethra.

Having diabetes, kidney problems, or a weakened immune system increases the risk for UTIs in both women and men.

Many of the prevention tips listed in our UTI Prevention article apply to older adults too. If you are caring for an older parent or loved one, take note of the three tips emphasized by the Cleveland Clinic:

  • Drink plenty of fluids (6-8 glasses a day)
  • Promote genital and urinary hygiene (e.g. wipe front to back)
  • Ask the doctor about low-dose estrogen vaginal cream for postmenopausal women (this can help the vaginal skin to support good bacteria)

Good hygiene includes showering or thoroughly washing the body each day and using the bathroom several times a day, wiping front to back each time.

If you are taking care of an elderly parent or loved one at home, our Uristat® UTI Relief PAK™ can help you test and see if it might be a UTI. This product also includes tablets to help relieve the pain often associated with a UTI. Be sure to check with the doctor first, before giving tablets to your loved one.