Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are the second most common infection in the body, and they account for more than 8 million doctor visits every year.

Odds are most people have had a UTI, but that doesn’t mean everyone experiences the same symptoms.

When you think of the symptoms of UTIs, uncomfortable itching, pain and the constant feeling of a full bladder may come to mind. Though these are common symptoms of UTIs, seniors often exhibit different symptoms than most.

Keep reading to learn more about how UTIs can cause confusion, or UTI delirium, for seniors.

Impact Of UTIs On Seniors’ Cognitive Function

Have you ever had trouble focusing or concentrating while you’re sick? Symptoms like fever, fatigue and general discomfort already take a toll on our mental functioning. For seniors, these UTI symptoms all can contribute to cognitive impairments.

When our immune systems are fighting an infection, our bodies release chemicals that cause inflammation. This inflammation can lead to swelling in the brain and disrupt a senior’s brain function.

In older adults, the inflammation and stress hormones released when fighting an infection like a UTI affects the brain more than it did when they were young. This is what scientists believe causes UTI delirium in seniors.

What Is UTI Delirium

UTI delirium is a specific term for the cognitive impairments and behavioral changes that inflammation from a UTI can cause.

According to medical books, delirium is a condition where someone becomes confused over a short period of time. Unlike dementia, delirium doesn’t come on slowly over years. It often only lasts a few hours or days.

Though delirium can be caused by a number of factors — including medications, anesthesia or other infections — the most common cause of delirium in seniors is due to a UTI.

People experiencing UTI delirium may seem aggressive, withdrawn or restless. They could experience hallucinations, seeing or hearing things that aren’t there. Someone can experience delirium at any age, but delirium is most common in seniors.

How Long Does It Take UTI Delirium To Go Away?

UTI delirium is a short-term condition that often resolves itself once the underlying cause, such as a UTI, is treated. However, for seniors experiencing Alzheimer’s or dementia, UTIs can become more common. They can be more difficult to diagnose and more detrimental to their health.

A common cause of a UTI is holding your bladder, which someone navigating Alzheimer’s or dementia may often do. This can lead to more frequent UTIs, and it’s also why health care providers and family members should be reminding their patient or loved one to use the restroom frequently.

Similarly, most people complain of painful urination, fever, chills or lower back pain when they have a UTI, but someone with dementia often will not. That’s why careful observation is so important — so you can bring unusual behavior to the attention of the medical staff.

In serious conditions, it’s important that seniors with UTI delirium or other UTI symptoms receive immediate medical attention. This will prevent complications like kidney infections and maintain their cognitive function.

Dementia and UTIs

It’s important to understand the connection between dementia and UTIs for seniors. If an individual already has dementia, a UTI can worsen their symptoms very quickly.

Any infection, including UTIs, can damage nerves and brain cells and it can lead to temporary mental disorientation. The disorientation can be mistaken for the onset of dementia by those unfamiliar with the interaction between it and UTIs.

Temporary dementia can be successfully treated and potentially reversed if the cause is removed. Reversible dementia has much of the same symptoms as irreversible dementia, so testing is necessary to determine the cause.

Dementia due to infection may occur rapidly, which is a telltale difference between a reversible and an irreversible condition. Clinicians are trained to observe and evaluate any changes in patients, so lean on your loved one’s caregivers for support.