The hidden dangers of urinary tract infections in the elderly
Although a urinary tract infection (UTI) isn’t something you would normally consider life threatening it can become very dangerous if it goes untreated. Urinary tract infections in the elderly can be confused for dementia, or other long term health conditions, because they often do not display the same symptoms in the elderly as they do in younger patients. As you grow older the feeling in the bladder may decrease, or be lost completely, so the pain that is usually experienced with a UTI can go unnoticed and therefore undiagnosed. If a UTI goes untreated it can cause more serious symptoms such as mental confusion, a change in behavior, mood swings, delirium, incontinence, and can lead to sepsis.
“Anytime I see a sudden change in behavior in a patient the first thing I do is check for a UTI because they are so common” Amanda McGrew, A Helping Hand’s On-Call Manager, reflects on her time as a caregiver in assisted living. She says that because a UTI can lead to sepsis it is really important to look for any of the signs, and try to catch it early on. If a patient already has another condition, such as dementia, a UTI can exacerbate the issue. Although it may be hard to notice mental confusion caused by a UTI in a patient who already has dementia, the key is to pay attention to anything beyond their usual behavior.
While working as a LPN Phillip Gansereit, A Helping Hand’s Director of Client Services, has had experience with these complicated cases where a patient has multiple overlapping symptoms. The best rule of thumb is to get familiar with the client’s baseline “if the client is getting confused or agitated beyond their baseline I check for an UTI”. He says that anytime an extremely routine oriented patient doesn’t get out of bed, or follow their usual schedule, he checks for UTI and stroke. Phillip also says that if they do experience clear symptoms, such as painful urination, a patient with dementia may not communicate it directly.
Phillip advises that some of the verbal questions that he keeps an ear out for are statements such as “my seat is hot” or “I don’t want to go to the bathroom”. If you are aware of the patient’s typical behaviors it can make it easier to try to interpret what they are trying to tell you. At A Helping Hand Homecare we understand that it is important to have a consistent caregiver and strong communication so the clients baseline is understood. In order to catch signs of a UTI early on our caregivers document their daily tasks and call our nursing staff immediately if they see any symptoms so we can quickly address the issue before it becomes dangerous.