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Delirium with UTIs in Older Adults

Have you noticed a change in the behavior or an older adult that you care for? Perhaps it has taken place over the span of a number of days--confusion, restlessness, hallucinations or social withdrawal?

Before jumping to the conclusion that your loved one has the beginnings of dementia, have a physical exam performed. Your loved one might be suffering from delirium brought on by a urinary tract infection (UTI). In older adults, UTIs can become quite serious, so it is important that you have an assessment or checkup done as soon as possible.

UTI happens when bacteria enter the urinary tract through the urethra, to the bladder, to the ureters, and finally, resting in the kidneys. The kidneys, work to filter waste out of the blood and pass it through the urinary tract in urine. However, once bacteria infect the kidneys, they can infect the bloodstream and carry it all the way to the brain.

The science is still evolving, but what is known is that blood vessels in the brain become weaker as people get older, making the brain more susceptible to infection permeating the brain.

Besides delirium, other UTI symptoms to watch for in your loved one are urine that appears cloudy or bloody or has a strong odor, a frequent need to urinate, pain or burning with urination, and a fever.

Older adults are more susceptible to UTIs because of other conditions they may have, such as diabetes, incontinence, enlarged prostate, kidney stones, urinary retention, and immobility.

Treatment is handled through a course of antibiotics. If the delirium continues, a short-term course of antipsychotics may be needed.

Prevention is also key. Have your loved one drink plenty of water to keep him or her hydrated and to keep fluid moving through his or her system. Also, encourage your loved one to drink cranberry juice and take Vitamin C to keep bacteria out of the urine. Proper hygiene is also important here, as your senior should wipe “front to back” to keep bacteria from entering the urethra and wear clean cotton underwear.

Resources: Aging Care.com, American Medical Association