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Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) Often Cause Confusion and Agitation in the Elderly

Nov 17, 2011

Little known fact: UTIs in the elderly often cause confusion and agitation. Sometimes a UTI in an elderly person will not cause pain as it would in a younger person, but instead mimic symptoms of dementia. Many nurses and even doctors do not know this. There are countless cases in which an elderly person has recovered from a UTI only to find themselves installed in a nursing home with a mis-diagnosis of dementia and that their house and belongings have been sold to pay for their current and future dementia care, when all they really had was a UTI that was easily cleared up with medication. "I went through many UTI experiences that would have ended that way (had I not been there) during the seven years I cared for my mom. It is amazing how many doctors are clueless when it comes to the more recent discoveries about geriatric medicine. Fortunately I had a close friend who is a nurse who keeps up on such things."
 
Another reader added, "I can add my story to yours. My aunt had lived alone quite ably in an apartment. But her neighbors told her daughter that she was acting strangely. My aunt told her daughter that she would have to move because her whole apartment was infested with bugs all over the floors everywhere. She would not be convinced otherwise; her hallucinations were quite severe. She was admitted to a psychiatric facility for an evaluation since she had never exhibited any such symptoms before. She, too, had an UTI and remained in the facility for several days because until the UTI was well under control, she was convinced she was mentally ill. She was also adamant that she saw televiision programs "playing" on the side of her nightstand at the hospital. By then she was mentally aware that the things were not REALLY there but she still saw them. for quite a while and thus couldn't really stay by herself. The whole experience was very frightening. She did eventually recuperate from it. 
 
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a urinary tract infection, or UTI, is an infection that can happen anywhere along the urinary tract. Urinary tract infections have different names, depending on what part of the urinary tract is infected.

 

  • Bladder -- an infection in the bladder is also called cystitis or a bladder infection
  • Kidneys -- an infection of one or both kidneys is called pyelonephritis or a kidney infection
  • Ureters -- the tubes that take urine from each kidney to the bladder are only rarely the site of infection
  • Urethra -- an infection of the tube that empties urine from the bladder to the outside is called urethritis 

UTI's can often be tricky to diagnose without a urine sample.  If your loved one's physical, psychological or emotional condition changes quickly, make sure that you visit your doctor, and specifically ask whether he or she thinks it could be a UTI.  Typically, UTI's are easily treated with antibiotics.  If you suspect a UTI, don't wait!  Contact a medical professional immediately!  For more information, check out this page from the NIH: Urinary Tract Infection