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Why UTIs Can Complicate Dementia in Some Seniors

UTIs-Can-Complicate-Dementia-150x150Urinary tract infection (UTI) is a common occurrence in the elderly, especially women. Over 8 million visits to the doctor, every year, involve a UTI diagnosis. It is the second most common infection in the U.S. 1 In fact, about 50-60% of adult women have had at least one UTI. 2 The numbers are significantly lower for adult men primarily due to a simple anatomical explanation. In women, as compared to men, the bacteria that normally live in the pelvic region don’t have as far to travel in order to infect the bladder.

Common symptoms of a urinary tract infection include:

  • Pain or a burning sensation upon urinating
  • The urge to urinate more frequently, though you may not produce a significant volume of urine each time
  • Urine that has an intense foul odor
  • Cloudy, or bloody urine
  • Pain just above your bladder, in your lower abdomen

If treated with the appropriate antibiotics, UTIs typically clear up and are not a serious problem. However, if left untreated they can induce fever, nausea or back pain and begin to cause more severe health issues. Persistent UTIs may even progress to a kidney infection known as pyelonephritis.

Dementia and Urinary Tract Infection

Any infection can increase the progression of dementia and a UTI is no different.3 However, recognizing that you’re loved one may have a UTI can be especially problematic for the caregiver of an individual coping with dementia. Probably the most significant indicator can be a rapid change in the person’s behavior.

UTIs can cause a significant change in an individual’s behavior and cause them to become very confused. This confusion can be classified as delirium and as a caregiver, you may notice the change and confusion develop over a short period of time, one to two days.

Rapid changes to your loved one’s mental state can include:

  • agitation or restlessness
  • increased difficulty with concentrating
  • hallucinations
  • becoming overly sleepy or withdrawn

Additional signs of a UTI that caregivers should be aware of are listed below.

  • The patient suddenly cannot do a task he or she could easily do a day or two before.
  • The patient suddenly has a urinary incontinence issue or urine leaking problem.
  • The patient’s urine appears cloudy.
  • The patient’s urine appears pink or cola colored.
  • The patient’s urine has a strong odor.
  • The patient is suddenly over-tired for no apparent reason.

Your loved one may not be able to effectively communicate how they feel, so it is very important that families and friends who know the person well become familiar with the symptoms of UTIs and seek medical help if they see a sudden change in behavior, to ensure that an assessment takes place.

Struggling with incontinence?

UTIs complicate dementia and can contribute to incontinence. Although you can improve incontinence with hydration, there are many additional preemptive measures that help individuals avoid ‘accidents’. If you or a loved one are struggling with incontinence, download our helpful Dementia and Incontinence: Causes and Solutions guide below.


In addition, you might also consider the benefits of in-home therapy. Residential Home Health’s dementia care program, Mind Care, uses a clinical team approach incorporating medical social workers, nurses, as well as physical, occupational, and speech therapists as needed. Residential’s team provides caregiver support and education, strategies for living with dementia and keeping your loved one safe at home. The Mind Care program can help you understand incontinence and the options available to manage and improve the condition.

Download the guide or, call (888)930-WELL (9355) to speak with a Residential Home Health nurse about home care services that can help with your specific situation.


  1. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121113122529.htm
  2. http://www.onemedical.com/blog/live-well/steamy-nights-painful-mornings-get-the-facts-about-utis/
  3. http://www.alzheimers.org.uk/site/scripts/documents_info.php?documentID=1777